As March 19th and the new league year approaches, speculation continues to grow on how the Indianapolis Colts are going to approach free agency and the draft. Many Colts’ reporters and insiders have recently relayed internal frustration the organization has towards their quarterback situation and the play of Carson Wentz last season. His performance combined with numerous possible off-the-field actions the Colts have taken issue with spell out clearly that his days in Indy are numbered.
Until the quarterback debacle is resolved, upgrading the rest of the team seems fruitless. The Colts are realistically headed towards another round in quarterback purgatory while being propped up by a roster that is ready to contend now. The team as it is now is not without its deficiencies, but if Chris Ballard can hit a home run with his roster retooling this offseason; then when that franchise-saving quarterback is eventually added to the equation, the Colts would be ready to join the top contenders of the AFC.
The secondary is one of those places Chris Ballard will likely want to improve. With Xavier Rhodes likely leaving in free agency and a third safety needed to sure up depth at the position, Ballard will probably find it in the team’s best interest to sign an outside free agent in addition to drafting a player or two. In the free-agent category, here are five players I think the Colts will look at closely in the upcoming signing period.
Hayward has been linked to the Colts since Gus Bradley and Ron Milus were named to the defensive coaching staff. At 32, Hayward is on the older side but is coming off a fantastic year with the Raiders where he posted a 76.6 coverage grade according to PFF. However as Colts fans have seen with the Xavier Rhodes experience, cornerbacks on the wrong side of 30 tend to have seasons that fluctuate dramatically in productivity. This is true for Hayward even in just the last two years, as he compiled a sub-60 grade in 2020.
What would Casey Hayward bring to the Colts? A familiarity with Gus Bradley’s Base Cover 3 schemes and a veteran presence to a young cornerback group that is quickly improving. Maybe this is the year Rock Ya-Sin solidifies himself as the legitimate CB1 on this team. If that’s the case, then Hayward could be signed as an insurance policy if Ya-Sin doesn’t take that step. Casey Hayward still has the ability to be a number one cornerback in this league. The question is if the Colts sign him, will he have to be?
Will one Xavier go out just for a younger one to come in? Xavier Woods is coming off a one-year deal with the Vikings as a starting safety who played about 1,200 snaps last year according to Spotrac. Along with that Woods recorded 108 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and a sack, while playing 100% of the defensive snaps for Minnesota over the year. Before his time with the Vikings, Woods played 4 years with the Cowboys where he got a majority of the snaps in all of them.
According to Spotrac, Xavier Woods’ market value is 4.3 million dollars, meaning a contract would be somewhere in the 5 million APY. Woods would most certainly enter the safety rotation as the third guy, and main reserve for Khari Willis. If the Colts don’t retain George Odum, Xavier Woods would be an optimal alternative to upgrade the position with quality, starter level depth.
The 6’2 cornerback signed with Seattle in the offseason and then subsequently traded to Pittsburgh for a 2023 fifth-round pick in the middle of the year. Witherspoon was someone Colts writers zeroed in on last year as a possible Xavier Rhodes replacement, and I still think he would be a fantastic signing a year later. The former Colorado corner is only 26 and fits the measurable standard Ballard typically looks for in corners. He played the last 7 games for Pittsburgh and came up with a career-high of 3 interceptions and 9 passes defended in only 368 defensive snaps played.
With the Colts, Ahkello Witherspoon would be battling Isaiah Rodgers and Rock Ya-Sin for one of the top 2 outside cornerback spots alongside slot corner Kenny Moore. The third guy in that group would significantly raise the floor of the depth at the cornerback position, something the Colts have struggled with in the Chris Ballard era.
If Hayward Jr is the top veteran cornerback I could see the Colts going after, then Rodney McLeod would be my bet at the safety position. McLeod is 31 and finishing up his second contract in the league after signing with the Eagles after the 2015 season. McLeod would almost certainly be the top reserve safety for the Colts if he were signed. According to NBC Philadelphia, McLeod is a “big-time leader in the locker room”, and “deeply involved in the community”. Those two statements will make Chris Ballard’s ears perk up as he goes about trying to add depth to the safety room. The former undrafted player out of Virginia played around 700 snaps last year in 13 games while tabbing 2 interceptions.
Former Colts cornerbacks coach and current Eagles defensive coordinator Johnathon Gannon began cutting the veteran’s snaps as his production began to decline last year, only to see a resurgence in his play after doing so. If the Colts were to sign the McLeod, they could get him on a team-friendly one-year deal to be a spot starter, exactly the type of role he’d ideally excel in during the twilight of his career.
Sidney Jones is another intriguing name whose career is on the upswing after failing to meet expectations early. Jones is a former 2nd round pick of the Eagles who dropped due in the draft after tearing his Achilles at his pro day. He flamed out in Philly before his rookie contract was up and ended up signing with the Jaguars during the 2020 off-season. This past year the Jaguars traded him to the Seahawks, who were in desperate need of secondary help, for a 6th round pick. From there Jones was thrust into the lineup, where he contributed just over 700 defensive snaps, totaling 66 tackles.
The downside with Jones is his injury history, as he hasn’t proven that he can stay on the field consistently. He also was more of a liability in coverage than one would expect of an uber-talented corner during his first 4 years in the league. It wasn’t until the second half of 2021 that Jones began to figure things out for the Seahawks, as he allowed only a 58.3 passer rating when targeted across his last 6 games.
The Colts would be betting on the former Washington Husky to continue his development as a depth corner, likely signing him to a one-year deal worth around 2 million dollars. As I wrote in my defensive preview for the off-season, if the Colts were to make this move I think Jones would compete with Marvell Tell for the 4th or 5th cornerback spot.