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15 free-agency fits for the Colts, from Marcus Mariota to O.J. Howard to Calais Campbell

Free agency is about to begin, and the Colts have more money to spend than any team.

The question is, how much will they use? Are they willing to go bold?

Indianapolis has $70 million in cap space, the most in the NFL. That comes with some pronounced holes at quarterback, left tackle, wide receiver, tight end and edge rusher.

Trades are one option to use the cap, and the Colts are exploring those, namely at quarterback.

But free agency will also offer plenty of options in the coming days. The legal negotiating period opens at noon Monday, and that’s when some of the news will trickle out. Deals can officially be signed at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the start of the new league year.

Here are 15 free agents who are good fits for the Colts to potentially sign this week:

Marcus Mariota was the No. 2 pick of the Tennessee Titans back in 2016 but never found his footing before becoming a backup with the Las Vegas Raiders.

QB Marcus Mariota

The Colts need a quarterback after ditching Carson Wentz, and they could strike a trade before free agency hits. If not, expect Marcus Mariota to be high on the list of stopgap options. He displays many of the coachable and team-first characteristics they couldn’t pull out of Wentz, and he’s reportedly open to serving as a bridge quarterback to a rookie. He could also serve as a backup with run-specific packages to someone like Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s possible he’s never gotten a real chance to show off his dual-threat skill set due to an array of different coaches and outdated schemes in Tennessee.

OT Duane Brown

The Colts also have a gaping hole at left tackle with Eric Fisher heading to free agency, and if they don’t find a proven quarterback, it increases the need some more. Duane Brown is turning 37, but he’s fresh off his fifth Pro Bowl berth and has played every game with the Seahawks the past two seasons. Playing next to Quenton Nelson is good support for an aging veteran, and he could try to follow the path an upper-30s Andrew Whitworth did in a simpler left tackle role with the Rams in recent seasons.

OT Joe Noteboom

Speaking of Whitworth, he’s been an invaluable resource the past four seasons for Rams backup Joe Noteboom, who filled in more than admirably for 17 starts in that stretch. The former third-round pick out of TCU is just 26 but should be in line to start for someone at left tackle. If the Rams let him walk, he could pair next to Nelson, who is the perfect complement for a player whose weakness is his lack of dominant finishing in the run game.

JuJu Smith-Schuster broke onto the scene with more than 2,300 yards in his first two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Colts need two starting receivers opposite the “X” of Michael Pittman Jr. One option who has versatility in the slot and outside is his former USC teammate, JuJu Smith-Schuster. He’s excelled with the help of a No. 1 receiver before, like when he racked up 1,426 yards underneath Antonio Brown in 2018. Coming off a shoulder injury that limited him to five games in 2021 and dwindling production with an aging Ben Roethlisberger, the 25-year-old could be a cheap option for all the routes Frank Reich likes to run in the middle of the field.

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

The Colts need speed on the outside if they want to take advantage of the single-high safety looks that Jonathan Taylor can create. Marquez Valdes-Scantling played that role with Aaron Jones and the Packers and showed some ceiling by leading the NFL with 20.9 yards per catch in 2020. He also had 690 yards and six touchdowns that season. MVS is a help on special teams as well, but he will drop passes at critical times. If the Colts have Reggie Wayne and/or T.Y. Hilton still around, this could be a bet on infrastructure to help a talented receiver.

TE O.J. Howard

The Colts also need tight ends after Jack Doyle retired and Mo Alie-Cox is headed to free agency. One who has abilities in the run and pass game would be ideal. O.J. Howard was thought to be a mix of both when the Buccaneers made him the 19th pick of the 2017 draft, but he’s been buried at his position by Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate and in his passing game by receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. At 27 years old, the Alabama product is coming off a full 17-game season and in prime position to become a spotlight player in a different offense.

TE Robert Tonyan

The Colts wanted Cox to become that seam-stretching tight end off play-action that put stresses on defenses but it never really happened. Former Indiana State quarterback Robert Tonyan has transitioned reasonably well into that space in four seasons with the Packers, and he showed his red-zone abilities by catching 11 touchdowns in 2020. At 237 pounds, he needs a pass-only role but could find one from the team that unlocked Eric Ebron in a similar way in 2018.

Casey Hayward has played cornerback for Gus Bradley's defenses with the Los Angeles Chargers and with the Las Vegas Raiders.

CB Casey Hayward

The Colts are introducing a slightly different scheme with new coordinator Gus Bradley, and what better way to install it than with one of his trusted veterans? Casey Hayward was that last season for the Raiders, when he started all 17 games and played at a Pro Bowl level. He’ll turn 33 this fall, but a short-term deal could make a player with 24 career interceptions an ideal replacement for Xavier Rhodes as the veteran of the cornerback room.

OLB Uchenna Nwosu

One unique element of Bradley’s defense is that it can incorporate a speed rusher from the linebacker spot in addition to the players off the edge. That’s what Bruce Irvin was in Seattle and what Uchenna Nwosu was for him with the Chargers. At 6-2 and 251 pounds, Nwosu is mostly a rush-specific player but did start 15 games last season. He has 15 sacks in four seasons and could add some juice while entering in his prime at age 25.

DL Calais Campbell

The Colts could use some more veterans on the roster, especially on the edge, where the youth of Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo froze the rush at times last season. Calais Campbell is one of the most trusted veterans out there, as he’s now reached the Pro Bowl with the Cardinals, Jaguars and Ravens. Now 35, he’s considerably past his double-digit sack level of a few seasons ago, but his massive 6-foot-8 frame could serve as the “big end” on base downs before sliding inside and allowing Odeyingbo to rush off the edge on passing downs.

Derek Barnett was a top-15 pick out of Tennessee before playing five years with the Philadelphia Eagles.

DE Derek Barnett

If the Colts want a player on the edge with a mix of experience and upside, they could look to a 2017 first-round pick. Derek Barnett never hit his ceiling for the Eagles but did collect at least five sacks in three different seasons. The 25-year-old played for new defensive line coach Nate Ollie in 2020 and could become a rotational run- and pass-down player on the new-look like he’s building in Indianapolis.

DE Arden Key

The Colts will likely shop at bargain levels in the pass rush, and players proven in the wide-nine approach of the Seattle-style defense will catch their eye. After three disappointing seasons with the Raiders, Arden Key joined the 49ers and had a mini-breakout with 6.5 sacks as the team’s “LEO” rusher. Key comes with some baggage, but at 6-5 and 240 pounds, he’s a pass-rush specialist who could give the Colts something intriguing opposite Paye.

DL Solomon Thomas

One defensive lineman who has experience in this scheme and with Bradley is Solomon Thomas. The former No. 3 overall pick out of Stanford never lived up to the billing, but he was an effective rotational player for the Raiders last year, reaching 3.5 sacks in 17 games. At 6-3 and 280 pounds, he could be a base “big end” who could slide inside on passing downs in order to bring Odeyingbo along more gradually.

Quinton Jefferson played for Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley with the Las Vegas Raiders and started all 17 games last season.

DL Quinton Jefferson

Quinton Jefferson offers a similar package to Thomas, except that he started all 17 games as Bradley’s three-technique defensive tackle last season. That’s DeForest Buckner’s position now, but the Colts need some depth and can move the two around using the “big end” spot. At 6-4 and 291 pounds, Jefferson is 28 years old, has missed two games in the past four seasons and has played in this scheme in all but one year of his whole career.

FS Justin Reid

The Colts like their young safeties, but too much youth at critical spots can be dangerous, and Julian Blackmon is coming off a dreadful Achilles tear. Another starting-caliber player would be a wise swing, and Justin Reid might be interested in a prove-it contract after he fell out of favor with the Texans coaching staff. With 12 forced turnovers in four seasons, the 25-year-old has shown the upside and would benefit from moving from a tough-nosed coordinator like Lovie Smith to a high-energy one in Bradley.

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