INDIANAPOLIS — The National Football League's free agency period officially begins at 4 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, though teams can officially begin contract negotiations with all pending free agents at noon on Tuesday.
So after wrapping up about a week of heavy action looking into the best prospects college football has to offer at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, the Indianapolis Colts' front office immediately shifts its focus to seeing which free agents of its own it wants to re-sign, as well as which free agents across the league they could pursue to continue making their roster as strong as it could be heading into the season.
While the list of potential free agents for new Colts general manager Chris Ballard could be relatively short — he's mentioned publicly how important it is to be careful in free agency — it is likely safe to assume that Ballard and his staff have taken a realistic look at just about every pending free agent available, just to see if they could be a fit on the Indianapolis roster.
And, looking at that roster and its various needs, it doesn't take long to realize that the Colts could really stand to be restocked at the outside linebacker/pass rusher position. The 2017 season will be the first since 2001 that a man named Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis won't be terrorizing opposing quarterbacks while wearing the Horseshoe.
While Freeney (whose last season in Indianapolis was 2012) and Mathis (who retired at the conclusion of the 2016 season) won't be back, the team also could see the departure of three other veteran free agents at the position: Erik Walden, Trent Cole and Chris Carter.
Come Week 1, the look at outside linebacker for Ted Monachino's defense could feature almost 100-percent turnover, with the exception of a guy like Akeem Ayers.
So while one might imagine Ballard will try to use the draft to address the team's pass rushing needs, The Ringer's Danny Kelly reminds the team that there still is a solid option in free agency, if the team wishes to pursue it.
Kelly on Monday released his list of one "ideal free agent" for each NFL team, and believes the Colts would be best-served signing up-and-coming pass rush specialist Nick Perry. You can see Kelly's entire list by clicking here, but here is his rationale for why Perry would be an ideal fit in Indy:
"With Jason Pierre-Paul, Melvin Ingram, and Chandler Jones all receiving the franchise tag from their respective clubs, Perry is left as the top pass-rushing talent on the market. The Colts have Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and Akeem Ayers all hitting free agency, so they need to add a pass rusher, and Perry, who's coming off of an 11-sack season, would be a great fit. He's a risk with just one top-tier season under his belt, but he looks like a player on the rise. And what do you know? He's 26, too."
(Before we go further, two quick amendments to Kelly's piece: Mathis, as mentioned earlier, is retiring, while Ayers is still under contract with the Colts through the 2017 season.)
Perry, as mentioned, is coming off a career year, in which he collected 52 tackles, 11 sacks and also forced a fumble. He was outstanding in the Green Bay Packers' playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys, as he had a sack to go along with four tackles.
It seemed as if Perry was finally healthy in 2016 after being nicked up his first four seasons, in which he would get just 12.5 combined sacks.
Also, at 6 foot 3, 265 pounds, Perry has the size to be an every-down player, which means he really would earn whatever contract he's going to fetch in free agency. While a more natural pass rusher, Perry can also defend the run, giving him real value on any defense.
Now, all of this is assuming the Packers would even let Perry go. They could offer him a nice deal to re-sign, and he could feel the need to stay where he's comfortable. But they didn't slap the franchise tag on him — as Pierre-Paul, Ingram and Jones each received — so they are obviously comfortable letting him, at the very least, test the market.
And, if the Colts are anywhere close to being in on a guy like Perry, one can bet Ballard, head coach Chuck Pagano and Monachino would love to see him replace the G — and the gold and the yellow — on his helmet for a horseshoe and the blue and white.
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