New Indianapolis Colts‘ general manager Chris Ballard made his key decision of the 2017 offseason. He released three-year starting inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
Jackson joined the Colts in 2013 and was one of former general manager Ryan Grigson‘s best free agent signings. The veteran started all 44 games he played in and accumulated 395 combined tackles along with eight sacks.
Even with all that production in the previous three seasons, Ballard felt it was time for Jackson and the Colts to part ways. Jackson still had one year left on his four-year contract.
At a glance, this move seems shocking. Jackson was a stable part of Indianapolis’ defense and finding his replacement will be difficult. However, this decision was predicable and makes sense after taking a deeper look at it.
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First of all, Ballard has repeatedly iterated his desire to get younger even since accepting the general manager position. At 33 years old, Jackson did not fit that philosophy. Yes, Jackson still produced solid results, but Ballard wants to give more opportunity to younger players.
The Colts have young inside linebackers Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison. Both earned starts late in the 2016 season. Ballard may add another young piece to the position group, but it appears the franchise wants to move forward with these two guys at the center of the defense.
Also, this move financially helps the Colts. By cutting Jackson now, the Colts save $5.5 million. That amount alone could lure a younger player with decent production in free agency. The team now has about $55 million in cap space to work with this offseason.
Finally, it is not like Jackson was getting any better. In fact, he was regressing statistically. After earning more than 150 combined tackles in each of his first two seasons, Jackson only had 78 in his third. Ballard saw that decline and chose not want to gamble on Jackson regaining his form.
While it is true Jackson could have reached 100 tackles if he did not miss the Colts’ final four games, those missed games are on him. He got caught using performance enhancing drugs. The optics of his suspension do not look good and gave Ballard more reasons to cut him.
Overall, Jackson was a tremendous help the Indianapolis Colts’ defense for three years. Unfortunately, he was getting old and losing some of his reliable production. As a result, Ballard made the predictable move of releasing him.
Ballard may not be done too. The Colts could save $7.6 million by cutting aging and oft-injured veterans Arthur Jones and Patrick Robinson. After releasing Jackson, Ballard will certainly entertain these potential scenarios.