Melvin Ingram has already changed teams during the 2021 season. The Kansas City Chiefs acquired the veteran edge rusher from the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a sixth-round pick just ahead of the NFL’s November trade deadline. Could Ingram be on the move again when free agency begins in March? If he doesn’t re-sign with the Chiefs, where are some of Ingram’s potential landing spots?
Melvin Ingram’s free agent profile
It’s hard to blame the Steelers for trading Ingram after signing him to a one-year, $4 million contract in the offseason. From all reports, Ingram was unhappy with his role in Pittsburgh. Head coach Mike Tomlin used his infamous “we want volunteers, not hostages” line regarding Ingram, and the Steelers granted the veteran’s trade request.
But it’s simply incredible how much Ingram has impacted Kansas City’s defense since arriving ahead of Week 9.
In eight games without Ingram, the Chiefs allowed 27.5 points and 391.5 yards per game, generated only 8 turnovers, and posted a 4-4 record. In the eight games since Ingram joined the squad, Kansas City has given up 15 points and 347 yards per game, managed 20 turnovers, and gone 7-1.
The Chiefs’ defensive turnaround is obviously not all based on Ingram’s performance. But he’s added a dynamic element on the team’s defensive line alongside Chris Jones and Frank Clark. At this point, I’d be mildly surprised if KC doesn’t make Ingram a priority in free agency. He’ll probably still get a one-year deal, but he should be able to land a pay bump.
Melvin Ingram’s landing spots
If Ingram hits the open market, where could he sign? Here are a few possible destinations.
The Indianapolis Colts could use help on the edge
While the Colts boast All-Pro defender DeForest Buckner on the interior, they’re relatively young and inexperienced on the edge. 2021 first-round pick Kwity Paye has flashed in spurts. But former second-rounders like Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu haven’t panned out. Al-Quadin Muhammad has played the most snaps of any Indy defensive end this year — he’s been decent, but he’ll be a free agent when the season concludes.
The Colts value locker room chemistry. Yes, Ingram technically forced his way out of Pittsburgh, but he’s known as a veteran leader. He’d be a valuable asset to Paye and the rest of Indianapolis’ young defense as they seek to turn a corner. Plus, Colts general manager Chris Ballard previously worked for the Chiefs. Thus, he’s likely to receive positive reports on Ingram from his former Kansas City colleagues.
The Philadelphia Eagles take chances on veteran defenders
The Eagles are viewed as a surprise playoff team in 2021, but perhaps they shouldn’t be. Philadelphia entered the year with an exciting prospect at quarterback, excellent top-line talent and depth on both lines, playmakers in the secondary, and a creative coaching staff willing to adapt to their players’ strengths.
As general manager Howie Roseman looks to build upon this season’s success, he’ll have to do so with a relatively constrained salary cap situation. The Eagles are a veteran-laden team, and they’ll only project to have somewhere between $5-15 million in available funds. And due to their structure, Philadelphia doesn’t have a ton of potential outs that would allow them to create more financial breathing room.
Roseman could look to make minor additions to the 2022 Eagles roster. He did the same thing this past offseason, inking veteran defenders like safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Steven Nelson to one-year deals worth $4 million or less. The Eagles could lose both Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan in free agency. Ingram would give Philadelphia a stop-gap option at what should be an affordable price.
Ingram would give the Cincinnati Bengals a depth piece
After a worst-to-first season that’s seen them capture the AFC North title, the Bengals look to be set up for years of success. With young cores on both sides of the ball, Cincinnati now finds itself in a position to add finishing touches to its roster. They’re projected to have nearly $60 million in 2022 cap space, so they should be able to land anyone they want.
Much of the Bengals’ funds should go towards improving Joe Burrow’s offensive line. Yet, the club has been searching for a reliable third edge rusher for some time. 2021 free-agent addition Trey Hendrickson has been a godsend. Sam Hubbard recently signed an extension, and while he’s solid, Cincinnati could use another rotational piece up front. Ingram is as dependable as they come. He’d allow the Bengals to push unproven options like Cameron Sample and Wyatt Ray further down the depth chart.
The Green Bay Packers may need to rebuild their pass rush
The Packers are going to be one of the most interesting teams of the 2022 offseason. The Aaron Rodgers drama aside, Green Bay is projected to be $40 million over the cap next year — and that’s without free agent Davante Adams accounted for.
If the Packers can convince Rodgers to stick around, they could extend his contract and alleviate some of their financial pressure. Even then, Green Bay would likely take a hard look at parting ways with edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. Cutting both would result in nearly $20 million of dead money. But it would also create more than $28 million in salary-cap space.
If both Smiths are gone, Ingram would make sense as a replacement. He’d be especially effective rushing the passer in sub-packages. With former first-round pick Rashan Gary now playing like one of the league’s best edge rushers, Ingram wouldn’t be required to serve as Green Bay’s No. 1 threat. He’d be a complementary piece and play a role similar to what he’s done with the Chiefs.
Ingram could help the Tennessee Titans replace Harold Landry
Harold Landry is posting a breakout campaign with 12 sacks through 16 games, but it’s unclear if the Titans will re-sign him. Tennessee will be short on cap space, and they’re already paying fellow edge rusher Bud Dupree $16.5 million annually.
The Titans have let plenty of draft picks walk in recent history. Tennessee declined fifth-year options on Jack Conklin, Corey Davis, and Adoree’ Jackson, and each of them signed elsewhere in free agency. It won’t be a surprise if general manager Jon Robinson doesn’t make a strong push to retain Landry.
But if Landry leaves, the Titans will need to make some moves to solidify a defense that jumped from 28th in expected points added (EPA) per play in 2020 to 10th in 2021. Ingram could present an inexpensive alternative. Tennessee would still likely add a draft pick at edge rusher, but Ingram would be a start.