Another week, another Super Bowl-winning, Pro Bowl DB was linked with the Colts in free agency. Earlier this month, I wrote about the impact Tyrann Mathieu could have on the Colts. That seemed unlikely when the Colts bolstered their depth at safety with Armani Watts and Rodney McLeod. Now it’s become very unlikely and far less needed after Stephon Gilmore’s agreed to a deal to join the Colts. The 23 million deal, with a guaranteed $14 million is a good one for the Colts. One that gives them an elite veteran player at a position of need without breaking the bank.
Indianapolis had a clear need to fill at cornerback after Rock Ya-Sin was sent to Las Vegas in the trade for Yannick Ngakoue, and Xavier Rhodes hasn’t been re-signed. That need is well and truly filled with the acquisition of Gilmore. Indianapolis’ interest in Gilmore was clearly serious, as they hosted Gilmore for a visit and even sent a jet for him.
There are significant reasons why this deal made sense for both parties. Indianapolis needed another starting cornerback, and there’s a good chance Gilmore can still be one of the best in the league, even if he won’t necessarily be as good as he was when he won 2019 Defensive Player of the Year.
Stephon Gilmore’s experience should be invaluable to the Colts’ secondary. Although it already boasts Pro Bowler Kenny Moore II, Gilmore’s leadership and history of winning could do wonders for the development of younger teammates Julian Blackmon, Isaiah Rodgers, and Khari Willis. Of course, Gilmore will be 32 next season and so he won’t be the long-term answer for Indianapolis, but that’s ok. His two-year deal will allow him to play well for Indianapolis whilst they draft and develop a longer term option. Gilmore should be able to deliver that while also allowing Chris Ballard to move cornerback a little down his draft board and prioritize other needs like a wide receiver.
Gilmore is probably too late in his career to be able to salvage a failing defense or even have any desire to do so. The attraction of Indianapolis is that he won’t have to. The Colts should be one of the better teams in the NFL and have a real opportunity to return to the playoffs and win the AFC South for the first time since 2014. Given the plethora of talent currently playing in the AFC, Indianapolis likely isn’t one of the favorites to make the Super Bowl, but they should play at a high level and win a lot of games. Given the Super Bowls he’s already won, I suspect Gilmore doesn’t crave a ring with the same intensity Aaron Donald did before the Rams won earlier this year. Therefore, a good team like the Colts that aren’t favorites to win a Super Bowl but could be a dark horse makes sense for Gilmore
The defensive teammates he’d get to play alongside also made for a great sales pitch. I already mentioned Kenny Moore II, who will be an elite player for Gilmore to play alongside. But Gilmore will also get to enjoy Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner, and the newly acquired Yannick Ngakoue playing in front of him. Indianapolis had a top ten defense last season. With Gilmore’s help, I believe they can be a top-five defense in the NFL.
It will be interesting to watch the impact Gus Bradley and his almost entirely new defensive staff can make on the Colts’ defense. I do think Bradley is capable of getting more out of the talent at his disposal than Eberflus managed. However, the biggest change for the Colts’ defense this offseason is the acquisition of Yannick Ngakoue. I expect Ngakoue to play a major role in transforming the Colts’ underwhelming pass rush last season into one of the better defensive fronts in the league. I also expect the new coaches and the development of Paye and Odeyingbo to play their part.
Adding Ngakoue and Gilmore to the defense in the same offseason should make both units significantly better, which benefits both units and the likes of Darius Leonard at linebacker. The improved pass rush should produce more opportunities for Gilmore and Moore II to claim interceptions. In addition, the improved secondary will reduce the options available to opposing QBs, increasing the likelihood they have to take a sack or throw the ball away. At the same time, Darius Leonard will be relishing the opportunities for forced fumbles created by opposing offenses having to lean more heavily on their running games.