INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time in a long time, the Indianapolis Colts headed into this offseason facing major uncertainty from a pass-rush standpoint.
And, by a "long time," take this into consideration: the 2017 season will be the first since 2001 that a player named Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis will not be attacking the quarterback while playing for the Colts.
But even looking beyond Mathis' retirement after last season, the Colts were already facing major holes at the outside linebacker position heading into the offseason, as Erik Walden (who had a career-best 11 sacks last season) and veteran Trent Cole (who is entering his 13th NFL season with 90.5 sacks to his credit) became unrestricted free agents, as was Chris Carter, a key special teams contributor who has since signed with the Washington Redskins.
So, seeing such an obvious need at the position, new Colts general manager Chris Ballard went to work when the NFL's free agency period began March 9.
Ballard so far has brought in three new faces at the outside linebacker position, each of whom are relatively young and come from successful defenses: John Simon, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo.
The Ringer's Robert Mays recently acknowledged the Colts' improvement at outside linebacker particularly, as he listed the additions of Simon and Sheard among those on the "NFL Free Agency All-Upgrade Team."
Of course, the "NFL Free Agency All-Upgrade Team" isn't a real thing, but its premise — the franchises that best used the 2017 market "to dramatically improve position groups that were black holes last season" — makes plenty of sense.
You can read Mays' entire piece by clicking here, but here's a snippet of what he had to say about the addition of Simon, formerly of the Houston Texans:
"Simon notched 3.5 sacks in 11 games in 2016, occasionally jumping off the screen in his second season as a regular part of Houston's rotation, even while surrounded by the Texans stars in the front four. The challenge for Simon will be moving from a defense in which he was the third pass-rush option (behind Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney) to a Colts unit that will make him the focal point of protection schemes. He has shown enough to indicate he's ready to make the jump, but this is one of the constant concerns in free agency — whether bit players in one setting can transition to be foundational pieces in another."
And here is what Mays had to say about Sheard, formerly of the New England Patriots:
"Jabaal Sheard has been a useful pass rusher throughout his entire career, and while his numbers in New England were never staggering, he's a consistent presence and somehow just 27 years old. His deal with the Colts is worth $25 million over three years, with only $9.5 million guaranteed at signing. That could prove to be great value at a spot where Indy was desperate."
So here's what it appears Mays has to say about the Colts' newest outside linebackers: while they have essentially been role players to this point of their careers, Simon and Sheard, specifically, seem like ideal candidates to essentially hand over the keys of the defense and see what they can do as they enter their prime.
And then there's the interesting case of Mingo, who was the sixth-overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2013 NFL Draft, but hasn't yet been able to turn a boatload of athleticism into on-the-field production.
He was traded to the Patriots prior to last season, and while he was a major special teams contributor for the eventual Super Bowl champs, he was at or near the bottom of the depth chart on defense. However, his special teams contributions and athletic upside alone seem worthy enough to at least take a flier on, and see if he can begin to tap into his potential.
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