Colts LB Corps Shuffles in Free Agency: Reports

Bobby Okereke

Getty Former Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke is signing to the New York Giants, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

The Indianapolis Colts made notable moves affecting their linebacker corps on the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period, March 13. One of the Indianapolis Colts’ top linebackers is entering free agency, while a longtime depth piece is sticking around.

According to a tweet from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, linebacker Bobby Okereke signed with the New York Giants. The Score’s Jordan Schultz added that Okereke inked a four-year, $40 million deal with $22 million in guaranteed money.

Later in the evening, Schultz tweeted once again — this time announcing that the Colts re-signed linebacker E.J. Speed to a two-year, $8 million deal with $500,000 in incentives each season.

Okereke signing elsewhere means Speed will be the returning piece of an already dynamic linebacker corps featuring Darius Leonard and Zaire Franklin.

Okereke and Speed’s Impact in Indy

A former third-round pick out of Stanford, Okereke posted career-best numbers in 2022 with 151 total tackles, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups. He often started alongside Franklin due to Leonard’s back injury, which forced him to miss most of the season.

According to Nex Gen Stats on Twitter, Okereke was targeted 78 times in 2022 — more than any other linebacker. Despite that, he allowed -2.3 receptions over expected and 5.9 yards per target.

Another factor Next Gen Stats noted was Okereke’s versatility. For the incoming five-year pro, that’s his impact in both the run and passing game.

“Okereke generated 75 defensive stops in 2022, tied for 10th-most among LB,” Next Gen Stats tweeted. “The Giants linebackers combined for 87 defensive stops last season, 19 fewer than any other defense.”

The deal won’t go into effect until March 15 — the start of the NFL new league year. Once it’s official, however, Okereke will enter a positive situation under Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale — who was also a Colts head coaching candidate this offseason — leading the way.

Speed also dropped career-high stats in 2022 but had a different fate from Okereke.

A special teamer his first two NFL seasons (2019-2020), Speed made his first start in 2021 and added five more starts in 2022 (17 total appearances). He had 63 total tackles (seven for a loss), a sack, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups.

The Colts could continue to add to its linebacker depth through the draft and free agency, but bringing back Speed on a short-term deal gives them a starting point to continue to do so.

Speed is the second Colts player the team has re-signed so far this offseason, joining defensive end Tyquan Lewis.

Colts’ Situation Sans Okereke

The Colts could be moving on from Okereke due to the talent and experience they already possess within their linebacker corps.

Leonard and Franklin are the clear-cut favorites to start at linebacker given Okereke’s departure.

Leonard appeared in only three games before having to undergo multiple back surgeries amidst a long-term IR stint in 2022.

But when healthy, Leonard wreaks havoc on the gridiron. He’s a three-time All-Pro in five NFL seasons.

Franklin put together a historic season with Leonard absent from the lineup most of the time. He notched 166 tackles, which broke Leonard’s franchise single-season tackle record (Leonard had 163 in 2018).

Franklin also put up career-highs in pass breakups (6), forced fumbles (2) and tackles for a loss (12).

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