In the NFL, the best way to build a team is through the draft. That much is inarguable, especially with the NFL's new rookie contract ceilings. Aiming most of one's efforts at strong drafting, rather than "splash" free-agent signings, is the most efficient way to build a title-contending team.
But, free agency is a part of the equation for every team, whether it's re-signing one's own free agents or looking to other clubs to bring in fresh talent. For Indianapolis, the first three offseasons under Ryan Grigson are ones that must lean heavily on free agency, simply because of the way the cap has been spread out.
Now, there are multiple ways to attack free agency. One way that has been favored by many is to avoid expensive, cap-killing contracts by going after bargains, diamonds in the rough that can be had for a fraction of the cost of a bigger name.
This is something that Ryan Grigson has shown to be very fond of and likely will continue to be. So if Grigson is going to look to lesser names to fill key voids on the Indianapolis roster in 2014, who might some of those names be?
If the Colts are looking for a bargain at running back, bringing back Ahmad Bradshaw has to be one of the top options. Bradshaw has already shown that he can be productive in the Colts system, as he ran for 186 yards on just 41 attempts in 2013 before receiving season-ending neck surgery.
Bradshaw is just 27, but his injury issues over the last few years will certainly turn some teams off when looking at him in free agency. Because of those injuries in the past, Bradshaw signed a one-year deal in Indianapolis last summer for just $1.35 million (with incentives that could possibly raise it to $2 million).
With another surgery now added to the list, Bradshaw should be able to be had for $1 million per year or less and on a short deal. If he stays healthy, Bradshaw can be a great third-down back. Obviously health is a concern, but every bargain has its downside. The question is, does Bradshaw's upside make it worth it?
It's debatable whether Sanders is eligible for the "bargain" label, but compared to what some of the other top receiver free agents will get, Sanders will likely be a bargain. The Colts need another outside receiver to pair with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, and Sanders fits that bill.
Sanders caught 67 passes for 735 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, numbers that don't pop out at you but are quietly productive. The six touchdowns are particularly notable. The Colts' lack of legitimate red-zone targets was glaring at times in 2013. While Sanders isn't particularly big at 5'11", 180 pounds, he puts himself in the right spot to be open.
Again, when it comes to rotational players, the Colts don't have to look all that far. While other interior linemen will be available in free agency, Joe Reitz is an unheralded backup guard who can come in and start in a pinch.
Reitz was a very good extra blocker early in 2013 for Indianapolis, bringing impressive run blocking to heavy sets in notable performances against San Francisco and Jacksonville. When Reitz started against Cincinnati late in the season (by far the most snaps he played all season) he stepped up brilliantly. Reitz's plus-3.3 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was the highest single-game grade given to any Colt interior offensive lineman in 2013.
He knows the system, players and coaches and is a fairly dependable rotational guard. He won't pick up a ton of interest elsewhere and should be a no-brainer to re-sign.
If the Colts are looking to find a center of the future in free agency, Dominic Raiola is not the answer. At 35, Raiola doesn't have much time left but does feel like he can play for a few more years, the perfect option for a short-term veteran contract.
Detroit has yet to make up its mind on the veteran center, according to the Detroit Free Press, and if they decide to go younger, Raiola would be a moderately priced stopgap option at center for Indianapolis.
Raiola had a fantastic season for Detroit in 2013, not allowing a sack and becoming Pro Football Focus' top-graded free-agent center in 2014. He would be a massive upgrade over Samson Satele but wouldn't require the long-term commitment that Alex Mack would.
The Colts need to find a linebacker to start next to Jerrell Freeman. There aren't many big names on the market that I personally love for the Colts, but Dekoda Watson is a very interesting player out of Tampa Bay.
Watson, an undrafted free agent in 2010, played himself into Tampa Bay's rotation over the last few years. While he never earned a consistent starting job, he's flashed potential and would be a big upgrade over the Colts' current linebacker depth at the very least.
Among Watson's accomplishments in 2013: 42 tackles, two sacks and an interception in limited time, including a 12-tackle day against San Francisco in Week 15. Watson, a versatile player, finished 2013 with positive grades from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in every category.
If defensive lineman Leger Douzable isn't retained by New York, he should be actively pursued by Indianapolis, who desperately needs rotational linemen who can rush the passer.
Douzable got a quarterback pressure (sack, hit or hurry) once in every 10 pass-rushing snaps in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Douzable also finished 15th among all 3-4 defensive ends in run stop percentage, so the Colts wouldn't be sacrificing any of the run-stopping ability that they value so much.
According to Kristian Dyer of Metro New York, Douzable plans on letting free agency "play out," so he may or may not end up being fair game.
A coverage-oriented free safety to pair with LaRon Landry is on every Colts fans' list. Players like Jairus Byrd generally top that list, but if the Colts don't want to shell out a premium contract, they may find the player they're looking for in Darian Stewart.
Stewart isn't an elite free safety by any means, but he would be a good fit to compete with Delano Howell for a starting spot. Stewart was a part-time starter in St. Louis and generally played well when he did start. Capable of big hits from the free safety position, Stewart is rangy and versatile.
When it comes to cornerback, the Colts really can't afford to go bargain shopping for a No. 1 corner. If they want to look to the draft, that's one thing, but a mediocre player opposite Greg Toler isn't going to cut it for what they do defensively.
But, the Colts do need depth after Toler and Darius Butler, and Gordy is a strong candidate to be re-signed as a dime corner.
Gordy played pretty well when he was forced to start due to injury late in 2013, allowing just five receptions for 82 yards over the last three games of the regular season. He was physical in coverage but fairly consistent as well and can start in a pinch if need be. While he's not an ideal starter, he showed in 2013 that he can if necessary.