The Indianapolis Colts made major deals in the first day of free agency for the second year in a row on Tuesday, March 11. The Colts re-signed four of their own free agents, most notably cornerback Vontae Davis, and they signed Baltimore defensive end Arthur Jones.
Those two signings are the keys for Indianapolis.
Don't misunderstand, re-signing Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri as specialists was important and bringing back DT Fili Moala, RB Ahmad Bradshaw and S Sergio Brown were key depth moves.
But the Colts committed $36 million in guaranteed money to Jones and Davis, with total contract values of $33 and $39 million, respectively, per Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.
Those two contracts, along with Gosder Cherilus' five years for $35 million last year, are the largest contracts Ryan Grigson has ever negotiated. The guaranteed money Jones received was $500,000 more than what Cherilus received last year, and Davis' $20 million is the most the Grigson front office has ever given out.
The two contracts are two of the most important of the Grigson era, and the success of the two players over the next few years will go a long way in determining the Colts' success.
So where does this leave the Colts? With more free agents left to sign in 2014, what do the Colts still need to accomplish?
Where They Stand
By signing Arthur Jones, the Colts address their defensive line issues for 2014 and beyond. With Jones, Cory Redding and Ricky Jean Francois, the Colts have three starting-caliber defensive linemen. Jean Francois and Jones can both slide inside to nose tackle if necessary in 2014, with just Josh Chapman currently on the roster at the position.
Going forward, Jones should prove to be an excellent replacement for Redding, whose contract expires in 2015. Jones is just 27, and he doesn't have a ton of wear and tear on his body, with a fairly low snap count in the first few years of his career.
While some have labeled Jones as a pass-rusher, he's definitely more in line with the run-stopping mold. He's not a bad pass-rusher, but he hasn't shown anything special in that department at any point in his career. But he's outstanding against the run, and the Colts linebackers shouldn't have any excuses to not lead an above-average run defense in 2014.
Vontae Davis brings an even more valuable element to the Colts defense: a shutdown cornerback. Not all fans will agree with the term, but Davis finished with a top ten success rate from Football Outsiders among cornerbacks last season. Occasionally his miscues would result in big plays, but that was a result of scheme rather than Davis having a tendency to get burned.
With Davis patrolling one side, the Colts have a bit more flexibility with their safeties, which gives them more options in replacing Antoine Bethea. With the four best safeties (Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Antoine Bethea and Donte Whitner) off the market and the draft class fairly shallow, the Colts likely won't get an impact player at the position. Fortunately, with Davis, they don't necessarily need one. Obviously they would prefer one, but the defense can succeed without a top safety.
The Colts' big three remaining needs are center, safety and wide receiver. The Colts still need to address all three but don't necessarily have to do it immediately.
Ideally, the Colts would sign a center and safety in free agency and draft a wide receiver early in what looks to be one of the deepest receiver drafts in years. But, that may not be the case. The Colts are still major players for Eric Decker, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (h/t Chris Wesseling), and they may go hard at a wide receiver for their next move. Other receivers available include Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, James Jones and Hakeem Nicks
Which player would impact the Colts most in 2014?
Unfortunately for fans, who have hoped for a top center for the last two years, the team has not been rumored to be in talks with any of the big-name centers as of yet. It's a similar story at safety, where the top targets are gone and few high-quality options remain.
That's not to say the Colts won't make a big move at either position. Former Green Bay center Evan Dietrich-Smith has yet to sign with a team, although he has been in contact with both the Buccaneers and the Giants, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.
If the Colts do make moves at either of those two positions, it will likely be for players that haven't been discussed much by the media. Ryan Grigson loves to get his "diamonds in the rough" and he hasn't been able to yet this offseason.