It’s that time of year again. Yes, I’m referring to the month of April, when Chris Ballard arises from his man cave after waves 1 and 2 of free agency have passed to begin the arduous task of adding outside free agent talent to his roster. As a proponent of the Ballard style of roster building, I have no problem with his approach to free agency, however, it seems most of the fanbase feels differently. Colts fans have gotten so bored with the lack of signings that they have restarted the ludicrous debate of whether or not Ryan Grigson was a better general manager than Chris Ballard. Let that sink in.
As is the routine every offseason under this regime, the depth players who sign now will probably go on to outperform their contracts and make all those who mocked them as “dull” eat their words. Time and time again, we have seen Colts players step into roles with the “next man up mentality” to allow the machine to keep churning. Depth signings may not get you out of bed in the morning, but they win your organization football games in January when you need them the most.
Here are five players I think the Colts should sign to fill out the core of their 2022 roster:
AJ Bouye – Cornerback
Yes, I’m suggesting the Colts sign someone in the secondary not named Tryann Mathieu. While Bouye’s days as an elite corner may be in the rearview mirror, signing him would be a cost-effective way to add veteran corner experience to a room that could use another leader alongside Kenny Moore. Bouye caught on with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent before signing with the Jaguars and transforming into one of the best cornerbacks in the league for the vaunted “Sacksonville” defense that took Blake Bortles to an AFC Championship. Since then, he has played for both the Broncos and Panthers before being released by the latter earlier in March.
So why bring in an aging cornerback who has been cut by his last two teams? As I mentioned previously, Bouye would help stabilize a young cornerback group with minimal starting experience outside of Kenny Moore. The Colts will probably add at least 1 or 2 rookies to the fold with their draft picks, and having a solid depth option who could act as a mentor for those young guys is invaluable. Finally, Bouye should be in Ballard’s price range, between 1.5-3 million APY, plus incentives if he has to play more than expected. The veteran corner posted a 66.8 PFF grade last year and has proven he still has enough left in the tank to be, at minimum, a solid fourth option.
AJ Bouye blowing up the block on zone read bubble pic.twitter.com/swnXlVwK5s
— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) October 14, 2021
Tyrell Crosby – Tackle
Crosby was a 5th round pick by the Lions back in 2018 and has gotten a considerable amount of playing time since then. Crosby has seen action in 38 games, starting 18 of them, and was the Lions starting right tackle in 2020. After the Lions drafted Penei Sewell, Crosby was expected to fill the swing tackle role going into last season. However, injuries held him back, and he ended the 2021 season on injured reserve. There have been whispers that the Lions may have misdiagnosed his training camp injury, which subsequently lead to the firing of their head athletic trainer and Crosby needing surgery, but those reports seem only to be rumors. Either way, when Crosby has been fully healthy for the Lions, he has proven to be a reliable tackle who can play both sides.
In terms of his fit with the Colts, Crosby could push Matt Pryor for the starting left tackle at best and at worst be the 6th man or swing tackle. If the Colts wait to draft a tackle until day 3 of the draft, I have a hard time seeing Chris Ballard relying on that guy to be the swing tackle from day one. Signing Crosby would allow said tackle to develop and fill in only during emergency situations.
— Teej. (@TJLang70) October 19, 2020
Oday Aboushi – Guard
Aboushi is a former 5th round pick who has bounced around the league playing for numerous teams but has always been a solid backup guard. Coming off an ACL tear in week 5 last year, he may not be fully healed for camp, but as a backup guard, he hopefully wouldn’t be needed until later in the season. Aboushi has been solid wherever he has gone, either as a starter for the Chargers in 2021 or as a reserve. Since he is recovering from an injury and on the wrong side of 30, I would expect Aboushi to be in Ballard’s price range and maybe even accept a vet’s minimum deal.
If the Colts were to sign the 30-year-old, there is a chance, if fully healed, that he could give Danny Pinter a run for the starting right guard spot. Either way, Aboushi would fill a significant hole in the interior of the offensive line after the departure of Chris Reed. He would be a solid depth signing, and much like with the insertion of Chris Reed, there would be a slight drop-off in the performance of the line with Aboushi filling in.
Oday Aboushi is one of the more underrated FA OGs available. Before tearing his ACL he put together high-level tape for LAC + was quietly good in '20 for DET.
A few clips from '21 vs. Payne/Ioannidis
– Displacement in the run game
– Patience, length & independent hands pic.twitter.com/rDDQQ4L4Hq
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) March 10, 2022
Julio Jones – Wide Receiver
I was out on Julio Jones last offseason. His price tag was going to be overwhelming, and a quick cost-benefit analysis proves that the Titans gave up too much in trading for him. The same people who were clamoring for the Colts to give up significant capital to acquire Jones last offseason are now entirely out on him reuniting with his former quarterback in Indy. If you’re familiar with basic stock market terminology, you may have heard the phrase “buy low, sell high.” After his release from the Titans, Jones’ stock is at an all-time low as he heads into the twilight of his career, meaning the Colts could get him at a value price.
I look at Chris Ballard’s free agency approach and think Julio Jones’ situation is a microcosm of how he views this period of time. Many players are overvalued by eager franchises and get massive deals they never live up to. Year after year, the Jaguars consistently spend more than any team in the NFL during free agency and still often end up with a top 5 pick in the draft. Chris Ballard is far more nuanced with how he spends money, rarely spending it on players he feels the market is overvaluing. Julio Jones would be a classic Chris Ballard signing, stepping into the number 2 role right away while allowing a rookie receiver time to get acclimated to the NFL game fully.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 21, 2021
Morgan Fox – DE
Morgan Fox is a 27-year-old defensive lineman who came out of DII CSU-Pueblo and was a productive four-year player for the Rams before signing with the Panthers last offseason. A versatile defensive end, Fox is probably best when aligned at 3-tech, when he can use his quickness to beat guards off the snap. The Colts need productive bodies both inside and out on the defensive line after the departure of Taylor Stallworth and the potential loss of Kemoko Turay in free agency. While Fox doesn’t necessarily fit the role of either Turay or Stallworth, the goal is to get a good player in the building who can effectively rush the passer, which Fox has proven he can do throughout his career.
Playing an additional Tyquan Lewis mold, the veteran could make the defensive line even scarier, considering the addition of Yannick Ngakoue and the expected development of Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. While I would still like to see the Colts bring back Kemoko Turay and draft a player in the later rounds, the addition of Morgan Fox to this defense would make me sleep easier at night knowing the Colts have another capable pass rusher.
Enjoy 1 minute of Morgan Fox terrorizing the Saints. Absolute terror on Sunday. Active violent hands, strong at the point of attack, constant motor. Wins his 1 on 1 matchups and was effective on stunts. A couple of uncalled holding penalties too. Great offseason addition. pic.twitter.com/BMz9VdgutZ
— The 4 Man Rush (@4ourmanrush) September 23, 2021
Be on the lookout for another series I will be starting next week called “Forecasting Future Colts,” where I dive into tape on players that match all or most of Chris Ballard’s athletic and character requirements at positions of need. Our first study will be Sam Houston State cornerback Zyon McCollum. McCollum has been growing on me as a potential day 2 pick for the Colts, as he checks nearly every one of the Colts’ boxes. So if you want a headstart, search his name and his RAS score on Twitter, and I can assure you you’ll be impressed.