Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay
The first and largest wave of the 2013 NFL free-agency period crashed ashore the last couple of weeks. As the water begins to recede, we get our first look at the Indianapolis Colts' depth chart heading into the much anticipated 2013 NFL season.
Colts fans had high expectations at the start of free agency. Their team had a fat wad of salary cap cash to spend and some important roles to fill on the roster.
Speculation buzzed around which top talent general manager Ryan Grigson would sign with owner Jim Irsay's money. Colts fans were certain that at least one and maybe two of the top free-agent offensive linemen would sign with the Colts. Maybe they would also get a high-dollar defender just to show the neighbors that the Colts do everything with style.
You can imagine Colts fans' surprise when the free-agent signings started rolling in, and rather than a string of thoroughbred ponies, the Colts were signing a stable full of underperforming and largely unknown talent.
The brains of the outfit—Irsay, Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano—were unanimously upbeat about their free-agent signings. The party line stated that the Colts got a talent upgrade at every position and did it without breaking the bank.
Where do the new signings fit into the Colts’ depth chart?
Depth chart data provided by ourlads.com.
Some Colts observers thought the team needed talent upgrades at running back and wide receiver. There was even a rumor flying around, according to Mike Chappell of the Indy Star, that the Colts were close to making a big receiver signing.
It didn't happen, and frankly, it is hard to argue that the offensive skill positions were the Colts' weakness when their defense and offensive line ranked near the bottom of the league.
The Colts have a stable of serviceable running backs and a young receiver corps with nice potential. They are also set at tight end.
The Colts did need a veteran QB, however, and they spent some pretty big coin on Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck knows he is not coming to Indianapolis to compete with Andrew Luck for the starter's spot on the depth chart. He says he is happy to mentor the emerging superstar while being ready to play in case the odds catch up to Luck and he misses some playing time due to injury.
The apparently "under-prepared," per Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel, Chandler Harnish remains the third QB on the depth chart. Hopefully some of Hasslebeck's veteran savvy will rub off on "Mr. Irrelevant" as well.
One of the Colts' first free-agent signings was right tackle Gosder Cherilus from the Detroit Lions. Soon after, the Colts announced the signing of left guard Donald Thomas from the New England Patriots.
While these signings were in a critical area for the Colts, neither of these players were the big-name free agents Colts fans were drooling over.
Nevertheless, the talent on the Colts O-line was subpar last season, and these two gents will move right to the top of the depth chart.
Cherilus slips ahead of Ben Ijalana who is coming back from an ACL tear and repair. For most athletes, it typically takes a year or more to fully recover from the injury and surgery. The Colts needed help at right tackle, and the starting spot is Cherilus' to lose.
Thomas had seven starts last year for the Patriots and played in all 16 games. He slips ahead of Joe Reitz, a fourth-year player who started 2012 on the Colts' practice squad but found himself starting eight games on the depleted O-line. Reitz will get a chance to compete with Thomas, but his best bet for seeing any playing time is to develop some versatility at the other interior line positions.
The Colts upgraded their talent on the defensive line with the signings of defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin
Jean-Francois played in the Super Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers, and he will top the depth chart ahead of Fili Moala. Moala's 2012 season ended with a knee injury in Week 12.
Franklin finds himself in a similar situation, slotting ahead of eight-year veteran Brandon McKinney who popped his ACL in the third week of the season.
The free-agent signings claim the top spots on the depth chart by virtue of uncertainty over the recovery of Moala and McKinney.
2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes
The Colts made two signings at outside linebacker with Erik Walden and Lawrence Sidbury.
Walden only started nine games for the Green Bay Packers in 2012 as he worked his way out of the coaches' doghouse.
Sidbury only played in 10 games in 2012 with zero starts. Most of his playing time was on special teams.
These two guys were definitely not what Colts fans and NFL observers were expecting from Grigson. Only a time machine could tell us if Grigson guessed right on these two.
For now, neither signing will jump straight to the top of the depth chart. Robert Mathis has only missed seven games in the last five years and recorded eight sacks in 2012. He is still a solid starter after 11 years in the league, and he will top the depth chart on the left side.
Jerry Hughes was a first-round pick in 2010 and saw action in all 16 games last season when he registered a career-high four sacks. Even though he is only beginning his fourth season in the NFL, he has more game experience than Sidbury and had more tackles and sacks than Walden in 2012. Hughes will be the No. 1 on the right side heading into camp.
Many people were disappointed with these signings at outside linebacker, but the talent pool got pretty thin after the top free agent was franchised and the other two demanded and got mega-buck contracts.
These two signings really only add to the Colts' depth, and they will have to show the coaches something in training camp if they want to move up the depth chart.
The Colts needed a playmaking safety and may have found their man with the New York Jets' LaRon Landry.
The Colts released last season's No. 1 strong safety, Tom Zbikowski, so Landry inherits the top slot on the shallow depth chart.
The Colts lost corner back Jerraud Powers to free agency, and the unit wasn't too deep to begin with.
Cornerback free-agent signing Greg Toler is capable of making plays when he isn't in the training room. He only played in 11 games in 2012, starting two, yet still managed to record a 102-yard pick-six against the Detroit Lions.
With Powers gone, Toler comes in at the top of the depth chart at right corner back ahead of Cassius Vaughn, whom the Colts re-signed. Vaughn is really more a return man and nickle back, however, and he will not be a challenge to Toler's spot. Unless, of course, Toler finds himself back in the training room.