No team places more emphasis on the pass rush than the Indianapolis Colts and their defensive line coach John Teerlinck. With dual-Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis leading the way, Indy arguably has the most powerful pass rushing tandem in the NFL.
The issue is that Mathis is entering the last year of his contract and may not be re-signed. Freeney is one of the league’s most diligent off-season physical trainers but he is 31 years old — and everyone’s production has to start declining at some point. While he could maintain a very high level of play for three or four more years, there are no guarantees and injuries to Freeney have devastated Indianapolis at the wrong time more than once.
With Keyunta Dawson unlikely to remain in Indianapolis, former first round pick Jerry Hughes unproven, and former Canadian Football League standout John Chick as the only remaining in-house options, it is plausible that the Colts will consider adding proven depth if the price is right. There are three outside free agents who are worthy of a look for different reasons.
Mathias Kiwanuka – previous contract 5 years, $10 million – 2009 cap hit $1.56 million
Cliff Avril – previous contract 3 years, $1.63 million – 2010 cap hit $470k
Ray Edwards – previous contract 1 year, $2.52 million – 2009 cap hit $1.1 million
*Approximate cap hit for lead rotational defensive ends in 2009 $2.5-4.5 million
Kiwanuka is potentially the perfect fit for a rotational pass rushing specialist defensive end. His career with the New York Giants has included shared time with Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Michael Strahan. He is 28 years old and could buy Jerry Hughes time to develop, if Indy brass feels it necessary. It will take a two or three year, $2-3 million cap hit to acquire Kiwanuka.
Avril is a prime candidate for a long-term free agent replacement for Robert Mathis. He played college ball at Purdue, would only have to move from Detroit, and may be persuaded to play on a team capable of winning a championship in the short-term. Avril will be looking for a four or five year deal that will require a $3.5-4.5 million cap hit.
Edwards could be the most complicated of the free agent defensive ends that would be a good fit in Indianapolis because he currently starts across from Jared Allen in Minnesota. As a result, Edwards would likely not sign for anything other than starting salary and would want assurances that his place in line behind Mathis is secure. Given the Colts have Hughes waiting in the wings already, that kind of promise is unlikely. However, if the team is already set on moving on from Hughes, and ready to dole out a four or five year contract with a $4.5 million plus cap hit, he could end up wearing the shoe.
The only other free agent with potential as short-term depth is former Colts hybrid defensive lineman Raheem Brock. The issue with Brock is that he expressed no interest in remaining in Indianapolis if he did not have the chance to play a more significant role, including a starting spot, and salary to match. He could be at the point in his career where a backup role is not enough to keep him from finding a new profession. It will take a $3.5-4.5 million cap hit to lure Brock back to Indy.