The Colts completed a deal with the Buccaneers to secure defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland, providing an immediate boost to their run defense. As a result, will the Colts shuffle the line back to the way it was last year or will they stay the course with their new alignment?
The Indianapolis Colts successfully negotiated a smart trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will help them resolve their biggest weakness this season -- their inability to stop the run.
ColtPower has learned through one of our NFL sources that the Buccaneers had hoped to get a first-round pick for McFarland, a 6-foot tall, 300-pound defensive tackle who has shown a knack for getting into the opponents' backfield. But they weren't drawing that much interest to command that price. And while the Colts weren't willing to surrender their first-round pick in the 2007 draft, they were willing to offer up their second-round selection -- knowing that with a 5-0 start under their belt, that pick will likely be a late-round selection. And gaining McFarland's productivity against the run and his experience in Tony Dungy's defense made him a great value in exchange for that pick.
McFarland is currently under contract for two additional years with base salaries of $4.5 million this year, $5.5 million next year, and $6.85 million in 2008. Over his first seven seasons, he has been credited with 292 tackles, 20 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, five recoveries, 1 interception and 6 passes defensed. So far this year, he's made 8 tackles during Tampa Bay's first five games.
A first-round pick by the Buccaneers back in 1999, McFarland has played in five postseason games and started in three. A dominating player with great instincts and quickness, McFarland's biggest nemesis over the past few years has been staying healthy. He missed half of the 2004 season with a torn triceps after missing nine games in the previous two seasons with injuries. Towards the end of 2005 he missed some minimal time with a hamstring problem and a knee strain.
The Buccaneers increasingly relied on McFarland for his run-stopping prowess and less on his pass rushing ability. That fits the Colts' needs perfectly, so it'll be interesting to see how and where he slides into the rotation along with Montae Reagor and Raheem Brock.
And that's the biggest question now that the deal is done -- whether or not McFarland's addition will encourage the team to go back to last year's defensive line alignment. Early last week, I pointed out in our "Stopping the Run" feature that while the team had many of the same players on the defensive line, they were being challenged in numerous ways by taking on new roles and lining up with different players to their immediate side, which can effect teamwork and timing.
Last year, they used Raheem Brock at left defensive end on likely running plays outside of Corey Simon at left defensive tackle. They inserted Robert Mathis as a pass-rush specialist on obvious passing downs, moving Brock inside to Simon's spot, and primarily used Montae Reagor at right defensive tackle next to defensive end Dwight Freeney.
Over the first five games of this season, Mathis worked as the full-time left defensive end for the first time in his pro career. Brock moved to Reagor's old spot at right defensive tackle and played there full-time, putting him in more passing situations and on that side of the line for the first time next to Freeney. Reagor not only moved to a new position at left defensive tackle, but also had someone new on each side of him with Mathis to his left and Brock to his right instead of his left.
With last year's alignment, the team allowed just 110 yards per game rushing versus 166.8 this season. So it'll be interesting to see if the Colts go back to their old alignment and simply plug McFarland into Simon's old role.
If they do, you could see this run defense improve -- and fast. If they tinker with how to best use McFarland in their new alignment, the results might not be as quick, but they should get there as the group settles in and gains more experience together.
Either way, this was a good day for the Indianapolis Colts and a smart move by the organization.
In-story photo: AP/Nick Wass