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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Kevin Hickey

Predicting the fate of Colts’ pending free agents in 2023

The Indianapolis Colts are over a month away from the start of free agency, and there are some big decisions to make when it comes to the players set to hit the market.

Expected to have roughly 16 unrestricted free agents set to hit the market this offseason, the Colts won’t be able to bring all of them back. In fact, it’s likely that most of them find a new home in 2023.

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The team’s current standing with the salary cap is a bit restricting, but they can make some moves to free up space if they truly need to.

A lot of these decisions also come down to how the players will fit with the new head coach, which is a process the team is still going through.

We took a look at the players the Colts should let walk into free agency and the players who should be re-signed this offseason.

Now, it’s time to predict the fate of every pending free agent for the Colts in 2023.

S Armani Watts

 Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Watts seemed to be primed for a major role on special teams before he suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason. With a safety trio of Julian Blackmon, Rodney Thomas II and Nick Cross intact, the Colts will likely add one more piece to the room. But it’s unlikely to be Watts.

Prediction: Free agency

CB Tony Brown

AP Photo/AJ Mast

Brown is an interesting case because he didn’t see much work on the defensive side of the ball, playing just nine snaps. For reference, that was fewer than Shaquille Leonard. However, he held a crucial role on special teams, posting the second-highest snap share on the team behind only E.J. Speed. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Brown returned based on that part of his game alone.

Prediction: Re-signs

DE Ben Banogu

Leon Halip/Getty Images

There was so much potential for Banogu, but he never got on the field enough to prove it. It was likely due to both him underperforming and the coaching staff favoring others over him, but this was one of Chris Ballard’s biggest misses. The former second-round pick logged just 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in 50 career games. He didn’t record a sack after his rookie season. He played just 10% of the snaps in 2022 so it’s likely he’s hitting the market.

Prediction: Free agency

DT Byron Cowart

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Cowart was a waiver claim for the Colts just before the start of the regular season. He held a rotational role on the interior defensive line, logging 19% of the snaps. This one could go either way because Cowart would be a cheap depth addition for the veteran minimum. But the Colts may want that spot for the development of second-year player Eric Johnson.

Prediction: Free agency

OT Dennis Kelly

Peter Joneleit via AP

It looked as though Kelly would provide some depth in the offensive line room, but he never really got a shot to prove it. He played just 20.8% of the snaps during the regular season, and it doesn’t seem like both sides will want to run it back.

Prediction: Free agency

DE Tyquan Lewis

AP Photo/Doug McSchooler

This was a heartbreaker because Lewis is beloved in the locker room and for the second year in a row, he was proving to be a reliable piece in the defensive line rotation. However, Lewis suffered a torn patellar tendon on Oct. 30. What’s eerie about this situation is that it’s the second consecutive season Lewis has ended a campaign with a torn patellar tendon, and it happened just days before the one-year anniversary of the first occurrence in his other leg in 2021. The Colts still re-signed Lewis to a one-year deal for the 2022 season, but it’s difficult to see them doing that again.

Prediction: Free agency

P Matt Haack

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Haack was brought in due to an emergency situation after Rigoberto Sanchez tore his Achilles. All reports are that Sanchez is expected to return for the 2023 season so the Colts can let Haack walk. It might be wise to bring in some insurance in the event Sanchez isn’t the same, but that’s a decision that can be made later in the offseason.

Prediction: Free agency

CB Brandon Facyson

AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

Facyson was brought in to play a depth role in the secondary and wound up spending the majority of the first half of the season as a starter on the boundary. He had some flashes of brilliance, but he also dealt with a lot of inconsistencies. According to Pro Football Focus, his 12.1 yards per reception allowed was the highest among Colts cornerbacks with at least 10 targets. Assuming Gus Bradley doesn’t return, we can make the same assumption about Facyson.

Prediction: Free agency

OT Matt Pryor

Peter Joneleit via AP

The Colts thought Pryor could be a solid swing tackle along the offensive line but once he was thrust into a starting role, it was a complete disaster. Despite playing exactly 50% of the offensive snaps, Pryor allowed the second-most sacks (six), fourth-most quarterback hits (five) and tied for the most total pressures allowed (31) on the team, according to Pro Football Focus.

Prediction: Free agency

K Chase McLaughlin

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Typically, it wouldn’t matter that the kicker for the Colts is hitting free agency. However, after seeing what McLaughlin did in replacing Rodrigo Blankenship, this move is a no-brainer. In 16 games, McLaughlin converted 30-of-36 field-goal attempts (83.3%) and all 21 of his extra-point attempts (100%). He converted 9-of-12 attempts from 50 yards or more, which set a new single-season franchise record.

Prediction: Re-signs

WR Ashton Dulin

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in his career, Dulin is going to be an unrestricted free agent. That may cause him to want to test the market. But Dulin’s role is another necessary part of the roster even if it mostly goes unnoticed. His production as a receiver isn’t all that inspiring even though he posted career-high marks in receptions (15) and receiving yards (207). His role on special teams is what gives him value, and it would be wise for the Colts to retain him if possible.

Prediction: Re-signs

S Rodney McLeod

Max Gersh/IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest surprises from the 2022 season, McLeod is set to be a free agent this offseason. He emerged as a key cog in the secondary, providing strong production and leadership. He had arguably the best season of his career, posting career-highs in tackles (96), tackles for loss (eight) and passes defended (eight). He also added two interceptions. McLeod is more likely to walk or retire this offseason so we shouldn’t expect him to run it back.

Prediction: Free agency

LB E.J. Speed

AP Photo/Darryl Webb

Speed provided some solid depth in the linebacker room while leading all Colts players in special teams snaps. It may not sound exciting, but those players are necessary. He set career-highs in tackles (63), solo tackles (37), tackles for loss (seven) and passes defended (two). Speed would be much cheaper than Okereke so it’s fair to think he’ll be re-signed to continue his role as a core special teamer.

Prediction: Re-signs

WR Parris Campbell

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

We finally got to see a fully healthy Campbell for the first time in his career, and it was encouraging. He set career-highs with 63 receptions and 623 yards while finding the end zone three times. Campbell did enough to warrant a second contract even if it’s a one-year deal around the $8-10 million mark.

Prediction: Re-signs

LB Bobby Okereke

Robert Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

This is a tough one because Okereke hasn’t done anything to prove he shouldn’t be re-signed. He’s still young and has been a proven starter over the last two seasons. The issue comes with the other contracts. They’ve heavily invested in Shaquille Leonard, who is the second highest-paid linebacker in the NFL. Okereke isn’t going to give a massive hometown discount (nor should he), and it wouldn’t be wise for the Colts to invest even more into the linebacker room with bigger needs elsewhere.

Prediction: Free agency

DE Yannick Ngakoue

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Ngakoue led the defense with 9.5 sacks and now is set to hit the free agent market. While he led the team in sacks and was second with 16 quarterback hits, he disappeared at times, evident by his 11% pass-rush win rate, according to Pro Football Focus. The Colts will need edge rushers, and the new scheme that will follow the new defensive coordinator will play a major role in Ngakoue’s fate. But for now, the Colts may be outpriced by the market.

Prediction: Free agency

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