The Indianapolis Colts return a good linebacking corps for 2013. Even with the probable loss of Dwight Freeney, the Colts will be led by OLB Robert Mathis and have a solid group in the middle featuring Kavell Conner, a healthy Pat Angerer and Jerrell Freeman. In Greg Manusky's 3-4 scheme, however, "good" isn't good enough. He asks a lot of his four linebackers and the Colts need to add at least one more play maker to that group to get to a championship level.
This year's group of free agent linebackers gives the Colts the opportunity to do just that. We talked about Anthony Spencer as a defensive end earlier in the week, so we won't mention him again here, although he can certainly fill the role as Dwight Freeney's successor. Here's who else is out there:
Paul Kruger- The Ravens have already said that if they have to use their franchise tag on Joe Flacco, they won't be able to afford any of their other high profile free agents. Whether or not Flacco gets the tag, he's going to get that kind of money. Consider Paul Kruger gone.
If that's the case, back up the Brink's truck, Ryan Grigson, and get your All-Pro rush linebacker who would jump at the chance to be reunited with Chuck Pagano. Kruger had nine sacks during the 2012 season and then single-handedly demolished the Colts' chances in the playoffs with three sacks of Andrew Luck.
Kruger is that defensive player that other teams have to know where he's lined up at all times. That kind of attention will make Robert Mathis a happy camper, too. Pay the man.
Connor Barwin- If the Ravens do re-sign Kruger, Barwin isn't a bad consolation prize. He had 11.5 sacks when inserted as a starter for the Texans after they let Mario Williams walk. His numbers were down this past season, but a lot of that was due to the Texans losing Brian Cushing on the inside. Look for him to rebound. He's only 26 and a great athlete.
Philip Wheeler- You probably didn't notice, but the former Colt had a career-best season in Oakland this year. He had career highs in tackles and sacks and excelled in pass coverage, something both Freeney and Mathis struggled with this past year. He won't be had for the paltry $700,000 the Raiders got him for a year ago and who knows whether or not he would want to return to Indy. But if this is the Colts' third option, it's not all that bad.
The Colts are pretty solid inside, but can always get better. Kavell Conner and Pat Angerer have been a little injury-prone and Jerrell Freeman, though he had a nice first NFL campaign, still has to prove that he can produce year in year out. Here are some very good players who would fit nicely for the Colts:
Dannell Ellerbe- Another possible Ravens cap casualty, the Colts would be all too happy to take him off their hands. Ellerbe did a great job in Ray Lewis' absence, so good that they're going to have to pony up in order for him to fill Lewis' shoes full time. He would also no doubt love to reunite with Chuck Pagano.
Larry Grant- Grant played well in 2011 when Patrick Willis went down for the 49'ers, but didn't see much action in 2012. He's only 28 and an extremely athletic inside linebacker who can cover tight ends.
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