Colts bring E.J. Speed back on 2-year deal, shoring up linebacker after loss of Bobby Okereke

INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts retained a key piece of their linebacking corps late Monday night, only hours after losing former starter Bobby Okereke to the New York Giants.

Indianapolis re-signed strong-side linebacker E.J. Speed to a two year-deal worth up to $9 million, a source confirmed to IndyStar, ensuring that the Colts have a three linebackers returning for the key spots in their base defense, even after Okereke’s departure.

As long as three-time All-Pro Shaquille Leonard is fully healthy after undergoing November surgery to repair a nerve issue in his back, the projected Indianapolis starters at linebacker will be Leonard on the weak side, Zaire Franklin in the middle and Speed on the strong-side, the spot he held in 2022.

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Leonard said in January that he believed the surgery, his second in the span of half a year, had corrected the issue.

“What I will say, it is different, because we’ve made progress, and he’s made progress,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said at the NFL scouting combine. “It’s a day-by-day thing, and he just continues to work through it. We’ll hope for the best. I know he’s working hard and doing everything he can to get back right.”

Bringing back Speed ensures there is experienced insurance at the position.

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Indianapolis Colts linebacker E.J. Speed (45) takes the field Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, before a game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Colts linebacker E.J. Speed (45) takes the field Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, before a game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Brought in as a fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft, Speed is following the same path as Franklin, playing a key role on special teams for a couple of seasons before developing into a key defender.

Or, in Speed’s case, a two-way player.

Speed played 314 snaps on defense last season and 384 on special teams, handling both roles well.

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Defensively, Speed made 55 tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles. In the kicking game, Speed finished with eight tackles, good for second-most on the Colts’ special teams units, where he’s always been a difference-maker, both in coverage and on the team’s return units — he scored two touchdowns off blocked punts in 2021.

Initially brought in because of his similar athletic profile to Leonard, Speed has carved his own path in Indianapolis, and the Colts now have a full complement of linebackers in the fold, although Ballard could always add another linebacker in the draft, where he’s been highly successful over the years.

Beyond Leonard, Franklin and Speed, Indianapolis also returns special teams ace Grant Stuard and developmental rookie JoJo Domann at linebacker, plus Lawrence Central product Cameron McGrone, who was signed off the New England practice squad late in the season.

And as the dust settled on the first day of the NFL’s negotiating period, the Colts news has focused primarily on their own in-house free agents, following the pattern Ballard has set over the years in Indianapolis.

The Colts headed into this week with 17 free agents, and four have found their landing spots already. Indianapolis is bringing back Speed and defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, but the Colts have lost Okereke to the Giants and reportedly lost cornerback Brandon Facyson to Las Vegas after just one season in Indianapolis.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts bring LB E.J. Speed back on two-year deal in NFL free agency