INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts this offseason have seen a major shift at the outside linebacker/pass rusher position.
With the retirement of Robert Mathis (36 years old), and by not retaining free agents Trent Cole (34) and Erik Walden (31), first-year general manager Chris Ballard has decided to go significantly younger at the position, signing the likes of John Simon (26), Barkevious Mingo (26) and Jabaal Sheard (27).
But as the Colts' most-active free agency period in team history has come to a halt, could the team possibly have one more splash up its sleeve?
BleacherReport.com NFL analyst Gary Davenport believes there's one veteran player available out there that could be a good match.
In his piece, "2017 NFL Free Agents: Every Team's Best Remaining Option On The Market," Davenport took a look at the top remaining NFL free agents and paired them with a team based on its needs. You can read the entire thing by clicking here, but here's who he picked for the Colts:
Paul Kruger, Outside Linebacker
"It's no secret that defense was a focus of the Indianapolis Colts in free agency—especially pass rush. The team's two biggest acquisitions so far (Jabaal Sheard and John Simon) were both outside linebackers.
The team also added youngster Barkevious Mingo, hopeful that the former first-round pick might start living up to that draft slot.
However, depth on the outside remains an area the Colts could stand to bolster, and bringing in veteran Paul Kruger could be an inexpensive way to do that.
It wasn't long ago (2014) that Kruger piled up 11 sacks for the Cleveland Browns, but largely due to injuries he has managed just four sacks over the past two seasons combined. At 31 years old, Kruger's best days of getting after quarterbacks are probably behind him.
Still, provided he's healthy, Kruger could give the Colts a measure of injury insurance behind their new starters at outside linebacker. Even in a limited role, he could help keep the Colts' pricey new additions fresh.
It wouldn't be a signing that would lead off the nightly sports report (or maybe it would—it hasn't been an especially good year for the Pacers), but there are some areas in the NFL where you can never have too much depth.
Pass-rusher is one of those areas."
The addition of Kruger would certainly be an interesting one, if the Colts ever pursued the possibility.
He first showed off his potential in the 2011 season with the Baltimore Ravens, when he notched 5.5 sacks despite not starting a single game. The following year, he racked up nine sacks in 15 games, with six starts.
Two seasons later, Kruger would really hit his stride with the Cleveland Browns, earning 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, four passes defensed and one fumble recovery.
But after a move to the strong side in 2015, he followed up with just 2.5 sacks in 2015 — although he received high marks from Pro Football Focus despite the low sack total — and he was released by the Browns just prior to the beginning of the 2016 season. Kruger signed with the New Orleans Saints two days later, and recorded just 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble on the year, although he did force his first-career safety.
What could make Kruger an enticing option for Ballard and the Colts is the fact that he could very well be willing to sign to a one-year "prove-it" type deal, in which he wouldn't count too much against the team's salary cap in 2017. He signed a similar deal with the Saints last year, a reported one-year, $3 million deal with a $1.6 million cap hit.
Whichever team Kruger ultimately signs with this season will represent four years since he signed a five-year, $41 million deal with the Browns.
But, as Davenport alluded to, Kruger hasn't only been inconsistent the past couple seasons — he's not getting any younger. At 31, he would be the Colts' oldest outside linebacker by four years (Sheard and Akeem Ayers are each 27). As a potential backup outside linebacker, Kruger would also likely have to commit to a large role on special teams, something not all veteran players are necessarily willing to do (not that Kruger has ever publicly indicated this, although he did not register a single special teams tackle with the Saints last season).
One might wonder: if you're willing to sign a guy like Kruger, why not just re-sign Walden? Walden, who turns 32 in August, is coming off a career year for the Colts, with 11 sacks and three forced fumbles. In his four seasons with the Colts, he remained productive, with 114 total tackles, 23 sacks, six forced fumbles and five passes defensed.
But with Walden, one might find a guy looking for a much larger deal than a guy like Kruger — and a player that certainly proved he should be a starter with his play last season.
If the Colts wanted to look at other experienced outside linebackers/pass rushers currently still on the market, they could consider the likes of Elvin Dumervil, Dwight Freeney or Mario Williams.
The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.