As NFL fans have spent the last week eagerly anticipating the draft, the impatient amongst us were thrown a bone. Rumours began to spread that the Atlanta Falcons might be willing to trade Julio Jones this offseason. Clearly, the Falcons aren’t trying to just get rid of Jones, but it would seem Atlanta would let Jones go for the right price.
I’ve enjoyed watching fans of teams like the Packers, Ravens, and Browns get excited as they imagine Jones coming to their teams and making a big difference. I know just how much I enjoy reading the latest rumours and dreaming of great players finding their way to Indianapolis, so it was nice to see other fans enjoying these rumors too.
I think fans of all teams do this to a certain extent. Sometimes it’s an expression of optimism in your team when you believe they are only one piece away from a Super Bowl. Other times it’s a sign of desperation and resignation at your team’s prospects. For everyone, it’s a way to fill the void left in our lives by no football by imagining the players we hope to see when football returns.
Every now and then, we hear rumours of elite NFL players who might part from their teams. We know it’s doubtful they’ll come to the Colts, but it’s just likely enough to fantasise about for a little while.
Although this exercise requires a healthy suspension of disbelief, there needs to be a degree of believability to make it worthwhile. Imagining Mahomes suddenly playing for the Colts is no fun because it’s too preposterous to contemplate.
I’m thinking more about moments like when Aaron Rodgers made some off-the-cuff comments about his future being uncertain at the end of last season. I knew there was almost no chance he was leaving the Packers. But it was just believable enough to enjoy thinking about for a couple of days when the Colts quarterback situation was still very much up in the air.
Julio Jones isn’t one of the players I fantasise about joining the Colts. Whilst he’s undoubtedly an elite wide receiver, he’s too old to be a long-term impact player for the Colts, and the team’s Superbowl window is much wider than Jones’. However, were I a Packers fan, he’s exactly the kind of wide receiver I’d dream of lining up alongside Davante Adams.
Many of you may now be pointing out that the Packers’ salary cap situation isn’t exactly conducive to trading for one of the league’s priciest wide receivers. You’d be entirely right, but these sorts of issues can be fudged when dreaming of potential new players.
The kind of players I do dream of the Colts acquiring are players like Danielle Hunter. Cast your minds back a few weeks. The best pass rushers in free agency had all been signed by other teams, along with a few of the mediocre ones as well.
It was time to accept that we weren’t going to be getting a significant new edge rusher; this wasn’t a surprise given the way Chris Ballard typically operates. Nor was it necessarily a mistake given the exorbitant contracts given to some of those players.
In a way, none of those things matter. Part of the fun of free agency is imagining new players joining the team. So there’s a sense of disappointment, of excitement lost when your team doesn’t get a player you think would be a good fit.
Just as I came to terms with the fact the Colts weren’t getting a shiny new pass rusher, I read the rumours Danielle Hunter was unhappy with the size of his Vikings contract.
There’s no surprise Hunter is unhappy with his contract. Injury may have wiped him out last season, but Hunter is one of the best edge rushers in the league when healthy. Yet he certainly isn’t paid like it.
The rumour he was unhappy was all that I needed to start imagining him playing for the Colts. The thought of Hunter playing next to DeForest Buckner is enough to make any Colts fan salivate. Hunter is still a relatively young player, so he’d fit the Colts window for winning another ring. If available, he’d instantly be a better option than any of the talented but flawed prospects available in the draft.
To lend these unlikely scenarios a small degree of credibility, I find it helps to imagine how they might come about and the often small compensation such deals might involve.
In Hunter’s case, I imagined the relationship between player and team deteriorating badly ahead of the draft, leading the Vikings to panic and trade Hunter for the Colts’ second-round selection. The Colts wouldn’t immediately be able to offer Hunter the kind of money he’s after. But I envisaged the team’s greater chance of success being enough to satisfy Hunter until a significantly higher salary cap in two years allowed the Colts to give Hunter the big pay rise he’s after.
To reiterate, I don’t expect the Vikings to trade Hunter at all, let alone for that kind of package. But I found it plausible enough to enjoy thinking about it for a couple of days.
That being said, it’s funny how sometimes these imagined scenarios do become a reality. Shortly after last year’s draft, I was pondering the Eagles trading Wentz to the Colts. At this stage, it wasn’t clear how good Rivers would be for the Colts, and Wentz was yet to have his disastrous 2020 season.
In my imagined scenario, the Eagles were willing to trade Wentz because of a hypothetical injury and decided to put their future in the hands of Hurts instead. So I certainly won’t pretend to have predicted the future, but I do find it funny how seemingly unrealistic scenarios can quickly become a reality.
As the situation with Julio Jones illustrates, one of the factors that can most quickly turn untradeable players into draft picks is crushing salary cap issues. This is doubly the case if the player in question is getting older and doesn’t have time to waste the last years of their career on a team that’s rebuilding.
It’s for those reasons that Fletcher Cox is frequently near the top of my lists of unlikely players I’d love to see join the Colts. It would be fair to point out that the interior is clearly the strongest part of the Colts defensive line. However, I’d counter that we’re talking about Fletcher Cox here.
But we can scarcely discuss salary cap hell this off-season without mentioning the New Orleans Saints. They’re also a team who might finally have to face a rebuild, even if their fans don’t want to hear it.
The Saints cap situation is so bad it seems plausible for almost any player to leave in the name of saving money. Although we all know Sean Payton would draw the line at trading his favourite son Taysom Hill.
For these reasons, Marshon Lattimore meets this article’s criteria. I see cornerback as being a second-level need alongside wide receiver for the Colts at this stage. It isn’t as urgent a need as a left tackle or an edge rusher. But it is still an area the team needs to improve, especially since Xavier Rhodes is currently the team’s best cornerback, and he won’t keep playing forever.
Lattimore has consistently been an effective cornerback since the Saints drafted him in the first round back in 2017. In the unlikely event the Colts were able to secure his services, he’d be able to anchor their secondary for years to come.
Speaking of wide receivers, Amari Cooper would be an excellent addition to the team. In this scenario, the Cowboys feel they have enough great, cheap wide receivers in Gallup and Lamb. They decide they need as much of the little cap space they have and as many picks as possible to upgrade their shocking defense.
As a result, the Colts are able to pick him up at a bargain price, allowing him to lead a talented receiving core for years to come; in the process, Carson Wentz is made very happy.
When planning this article, I did also think about Laremy Tunsil. It makes sense given the Colts’ need for a left tackle and the Texans’ habit of letting almost all of their other best players leave for essentially nothing. However, I decided that his likely contract would make the Colts offensive line simply too expensive over the next few years. I also realised that spiting the Texans probably isn’t a good enough reason to do something.
Which unlikely but just about plausible players do you dream of the Colts procuring?
Either way, enjoy the rare certainty the next few days provide as we find out which players will be joining the Colts for next season. This time next week, we’ll be back to crafting hypothetical future trades and having a great time doing it.