Hankins will anchor Colts' defensive front
Johnathan Hankins had 10 sacks the past three seasons for the Giants. (Getty Images)
Scratch one pressing need from the Colts’ draft board.
After a couple of quiet weeks, Chris Ballard made a big splash Thursday by reaching agreement on a reported three-year, $30 million contract with one of the top defensive players on the market, former Giants defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
“Johnathan is a young, productive and disruptive defensive lineman,” Ballard said. “He possesses a wealth of experience and brings leadership to our team.”
The 6-2, 320-pound Hankins has been a strong all-around player, performing equally well as a run-stopper and pocket-pusher. The Giants wanted to retain him and had an offer on the table, but the Colts reportedly outbid New York.
Hankins is the 11th unrestricted free agent Ballard has imported to the Colts in the franchise's busiest offseason ever in that department, and the seventh defender -- at least three of whom are expected to step right in not only as starters, but stalwarts. Hankins joins linebackers Jabaal Sheard (New England) and John Simon (Houston) in the lineup, while nose tackle Al Woods (Tennessee), end Margus Hunt (Cincinnati) and linebackers Sean Spence (Tennessee) and Barkevious Mingo (New England) are expected to compete for prominent roles.
With the defensive front now populated by Hankins, Woods, Hunt and returnees including Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson, the Colts can turn their attention elsewhere in the draft, which begins two weeks from today. Their top defensive priorities are likely to be edge rusher and cornerback, while the offense could use help at running back, tight end and tackle.
COLTS 2017 PLAYER MOVEMENT TRACKER
>> DT Jonathan Hankins (three years, $30 million). Instantly upgrades the run defense, and has been a productive pocket-pusher, as well. The former second-round pick of the Giants had seven sacks in 2014, tore a pectoral muscle and missed a big chunk of 2015 but bounced back strong last season with 43 tackles and three more sacks. While not a pure nose tackle, he’s a three-down player who should not only stabilize, but strength the defensive front.
>> WR Kamar Aiken (one year, $2.6 million). At 6-2, 215 pounds, brings much-needed size and strength to the wide receiver position. Aiken led the injury-riddled Ravens with 75 receptions for 944 yards and five touchdowns in 2015 but as others returned to health and Mike Wallace was signed, his role was reduced last season and he caught just 29 passes.
>> TE Brandon Williams (one year, $855,000). A solid blocker and special teams stalwart in four seasons with the Seahawks, Dolphins and Panthers, the 29-year-old has just six receptions in his 45-game NFL career -- and two more in his lone season at Oregon.
>> ILB Sean Spence (one year, $3 million). The fourth linebacker and third former Titans player signed by the Colts, Spence has come back nicely after missing the first two years of his career with major knee and hand injuries. He’s an undersized (5-11, 231) but athletic inside linebacker with coverage skills, and also has been a solid special-teams player.
>> DT Al Woods (two years, $5 million). Veteran nose tackle spent the last three seasons with Titans, starting 17 games, but was released on March 8. At the very least, Woods provides insurance against David Parry’s legal problems.
>> OL Brian Schwenke (one year, $1.3 million). Started all 25 games he played his first three seasons in Tennessee but lost the job to Ben Jones last season. He has played primarily at center but has experience at guard and stands to replace Jonotthan Harrison as the primary interior backup.
>> DE Margus Hunt (two years, $4.1 million). Despite remarkable physical skills in a 6-8, 295-pound package, Hunt remains a largely unfulfilled promise with just 1.5 sacks in four years with the Bengals, none the last two seasons. The Colts are hoping the native of Estonia who didn’t start playing football until 2009 at SMU is a late-bloomer.
>> OLB Jabaal Sheard (three years, $25.5 million). One of the most productive edge rushers on the market, Sheard has 36 sacks in six years with the Browns and Patriots. He’ll have to make the transition from defensive end to rush linebacker, but should be able to step right into that role.
>> OLB John Simon (three years, $13.5 million). An ascending pass-rusher and tough run-stopper who had 8.5 sacks in 12 starts with Houston over the past two seasons, Simon is also a high-energy player with a strong reputation for leadership on and off the field.
>> P Jeff Locke (two years, $3.45 million). A solid veteran punter with a knack for pinning opponents inside the 20 (which he did 34 times last year), Locke succeeds the retired Pat McAfee.
>> OLB Barkevious Mingo (one year, $2.5 million). Drafted sixth overall in 2013, Mingo never flourished in Cleveland and was traded to the Patriots prior to last season, winning a Super Bowl ring as a situational pass-rusher and special-teamer. He’s an unusual athlete, certainly worth the low-cost look.
>> OL Fahn Cooper (two years, $1.02 million). The former fifth-round pick of the 49ers spent last season on the San Francisco practice squad, and the Colts hope he can add depth at both guard and tackle.
>> DB Darius Butler (one year, $3 million). One of the few internal free agents brought back by Chris Ballard, Butler will make safety his primary position after playing well there last season. This, however, creates a need for a nickel corner as well as a starter opposite Vontae Davis.
>> RB Robert Turbin (two years, $4.1 million). A valuable third-down option, Turbin led all NFL running backs, converting first downs on 81.8 percent of his third-down runs (nine of 11). He also racked up eight touchdowns (seven rushing) and had a career-high 26 receptions in 2016.
>> TE Jack Doyle (three years, $18.9 million). Coming off the best year of his career (59 receptions), the hard-working blocker and reliable receiving target cashed in, receiving $7.5 million in guaranteed money. Roughly half the overall contract is in base salaries, with the rest in incentives, including a $7 million roster bonus for 2017.
>> OL Jonotthan Harrison (signed with Jets). A solid backup guard who struggled when asked to play center, Harrison became expendable when the Colts signed Schwenke, who has much more experience at both positions.
>> DT Arthur Jones (released). The only surprise was how long it took to execute this transaction. Jones was a major bust after signing a five-year, $33 million contract to leave Baltimore in 2014, playing in just 17 games the past three years and totaling 1.5 sacks with the Colts. The Colts save roughly $5.1 million in cap space by releasing the veteran defensive lineman.
>> OLB Erik Walden (not re-signed). Last year’s sack leader apparently will be replaced by Simon on the strong side. Walden was a solid, productive player but he’ll turn 32 before the season begins and didn’t fit in the team’s younger defensive makeover.
>> DL Zach Kerr (signed with Denver). In a surprising move, the Colts did not submit a tender offer that would’ve made him a restricted free agent, thus he hit the open market and was quickly picked up by the Broncos. Kerr was a productive, versatile member of the defensive front and an upbeat personality in the locker room.
>> CB Patrick Robinson (signed with Philadelphia). Injuries kept him from having much of a chance at filling the role of starting cornerback opposite Vontae Davis. When he did play, he wasn't effective, so this move came as little surprise.
>> TE Dwayne Allen (traded to New England with a 2017 sixth-round pick for a 2017 fourth-round pick). Doyle’s deal signaled Allen was no longer the lead tight end, and the Colts apparently decided they didn’t want to absorb a $4.9 million cap hit this season for a backup.
>> S Mike Adams (signed with Carolina). Despite 12 interceptions and two Pro Bowl appearances in three seasons, Adams was not re-signed by the Colts. Though he turns 36 this month, Adams believes he still has something to offer and intends to pursue a job elsewhere via free agency.
>> OL Joe Reitz (retired). The Swiss Army Knife of the offensive line for six years, Reitz started at every position but center, providing invaluable versatility and depth. But the combination of physical decline -- he dealt with lingering back issues last season -- and the rise of 2016 draft picks Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark contributed to his decision.
>> P Pat McAfee (retired). The departure, due to recurring knee injuries, of one of the NFL’s most effective punters and kickoff specialists came as a surprise and left the Colts with multiple roles to fill. Whether they can do it with one player remains to be seen.
>> ILB D’Qwell Jackson (released). The combination of declining productivity and an ill-timed PED suspension for the final four games of the 2016 season led the Colts to make the decision to part ways with the veteran inside linebacker who led them in tackles in 2014-15. At 33, he still hopes to catch on with another team.
>> OLB Robert Mathis (retired). Unable to recapture the magic of his 19.5-sack season of 2013, Mathis totaled 12 sacks his final two seasons and exited as the franchise’s all-time leader with 128. He’s also the NFL career record-holder with 46 strip sacks.
>> LB Josh McNary (signed with Jaguars). A solid special-teams contributor who never really had much of an impact on defense. If he couldn’t crack the Colts’ meager linebacker corps, it’s hard to envision him having much of an impact elsewhere.
>> OL Hugh Thornton (signed with Falcons). The former third-round pick from Illinois just couldn’t stay healthy, missing all of last season and 27 total games in four years with the Colts. Maybe he’ll have better luck in Atlanta.