Spence adds experience to Colts young ILBs
Sean Spence missed the first two seasons of his career with injuries. (Getty Images)
The theme for Chris Ballard’s first offseason as Colts GM has been clearly identified: linebackers and Titans.
Both boxes were checked with Sunday’s news the Colts reportedly had agreed to terms on a one-year, $3 million contract with former Tennessee inside linebacker Sean Spence.
Spence, 26, is the fourth linebacker (following Jabaal Sheard, John Simon and Barkevious Mingo) and third former Titan (following offensive lineman Brian Schwenke and defensive lineman Al Woods) signed by Ballard this month. The Colts linebacker corps also includes Akeem Ayers, who spent his first three seasons in Tennessee.
Spence was originally a third-round pick of the Steelers (out of Miami) in 2012, but sustained a career-threatening left knee injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year: two torn ligaments, a dislocated kneecap and nerve damage. As he was on the verge of returning the following year, he broke a bone in his hand and spent 2013 on injured reserve, as well.
He has been healthy since, appearing in 46 games the past three seasons, including 19 starts (six for the Titans last year). He has 144 tackles, five sacks and three passes defended. This will be his first active season with a defensive coordinator other than Dick LeBeau, who coached him in both Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
Spence isn’t a certain starter, but adds depth and experience inside to an otherwise youthful group. He is regarded as an above-average athlete for the position capable of helping out in coverage, a big reason his primary role with the Titans was as a nickel linebacker.
COLTS 2017 PLAYER MOVEMENT TRACKER
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> Patrick Robinson (released). 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.
>> 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.
>> Mike Adams (released). 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.
>> 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.