Shaquil Barrett, Jadeveon Clowney could help Colts' ailing pass rush

Boldest predictions heading into the NFL offseason (2:02)

Tim Hasselbeck, Damien Woody and John Fox share their boldest predictions going into the 2020 NFL offseason. (2:02)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Quarterback and lack of production from the receiver position were two areas often talked about during the late-season struggles by the Indianapolis Colts last season.

Their issues go beyond that, though. They’re actually prevalent on the other side of the ball.

The Colts' pass rush featured veteran Justin Houston, who had a team-high 11 sacks last season but just turned 31 years old. And ... there's the problem.

They had only one other player -- linebacker Darius Leonard -- with at least five sacks during the season. The Colts have to find a way to generate more pressure.

The Colts -- and their $90 million in salary-cap space -- must address their pass-rush need through free agency or the draft, as they finished 16th in the NFL in sacks (41) last season.

“We’ve got to be able to get some more interior pressure,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said.

Defensive ends get most of the attention when it comes to pass rush. But Ballard also wants it to see it at defensive tackle.

“The 3-technique drives this thing; it does,” he said. “Every time I’ve been a part of this [defense], the 3-technique drives this. When I’m in the box watching our games, if a team goes 80 [yards] on us, dinking and dunking the ball down the field, I can live with that. What I can’t live with is us giving up shots.”

There’s no further proof that the Colts need to improve their pass rush than the fact that Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston (467 yards), New Orleans’ Drew Brees (29-of-30 for 307 yards) and Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew (295 yards) picked them apart in three of the final four games to close the season.

How the Colts plan to get pressure up the middle and help Houston on the outside is anybody’s guess, especially when it comes to Ballard’s mindset on free agency.

“You all know my philosophy on free agency,” the general manager said. “You cannot buy a championship. You cannot buy a locker room. We will continue to go down the same road we’ve been going down.”

Hearing that might burst some people’s bubbles when it comes to hoping that Ballard will change his ways. He’ll spend money on free agents, but he isn't likely to get into major bidding wars.

Here are four of the more intriguing targets in free agency:

In the middle

Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs

This is likely on the wishful-thinking list. Jones is just days off of a Super Bowl title and the champs will want to keep him around. But man, Jones would fill a major need for the Colts in the middle of the defensive line. He has 33 sacks, including 15 in 2018, in just four seasons in the NFL. And he fits a major criterion for Ballard in free agents: Jones will be just 26 years old. Jones, though, is in line for a big payday. He said after the Super Bowl that he wants to remain with the Chiefs, who can also use the franchise tag on him if necessary.

Maliek Collins, DT, Dallas Cowboys

Collins has started 55 of the 61 games he has played in his career. He has missed only three games in his four-year career. Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, who was with the Cowboys before coming to Indianapolis, runs a similar scheme to Dallas. Collins, who will turn 25 in April, has 14.5 sacks in his career.

On the edge

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Seattle Seahawks

ESPN Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson gave a bold prediction that the team won’t re-sign Clowney this offseason. Clowney, who was traded to Seattle from Houston last season, had only three sacks in 13 games with the Seahawks despite being an every-down player. He has never had a double-digit-sack season in his six years in the league, and he has played all 16 games in a season only once. Clowney’s price tag could be too high, however. The Colts will have Kemoko Turay, who is headed into his third season, back from a season-ending ankle injury and Ben Banogu, who will be in his second season, to play on the edge next season.

Shaquil Barrett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It would be hard to imagine the Buccaneers not re-signing Barrett. All he did was record 19.5 sacks after not having more than 5.5 sacks in a season during his first four years in the NFL. And he is only 27 years old. Not only will Barrett come with a steep price tag, but the Colts would have to take into consideration if he’s a one-hit wonder or if he’s just getting started.