What We've Learned About the Indianapolis Colts Since the Start of Free Agency
What a wild, wacky start to free agency it has been.
Rodger Saffold has gotten overpaid by two teams, the Oakland Raiders somehow managed to have more cap space than anybody in history, per Jarrett Bell of USA Today, but didn't manage to land anybody but Austin Howard and Darrelle Revis is playing for Bill Belichick in 2014.
Welcome to the 2014 league year.
For the Indianapolis Colts, it's been a busy week, and there is still more free-agent activity to come. But what we've seen GM Ryan Grigson and the Colts front office do so far can tell us quite a bit about the front office's strategy, the free-agent market and the league in general.
The Colts Are Serious About Defense
Five players, over $95 million and over $47 million guaranteed.
That is what the Colts have spent thus far in free agency...on the defense.
In 2013, the Colts defense was the weakest unit of the team, ranking 16th in Football Outsiders' DVOA. Even though the offense was ravaged by injuries to starters (Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas, Reggie Wayne, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw) while the defense stayed relatively healthy, the offense still managed to outperform the defense.
The defense had some good games against weaker opponents, but also some exceptionally poor games, especially if the offense wasn't controlling the clock. This was evident in the playoffs, as the Colts scored 33 points a game, while their opponents put up 43 and 45.
To address the issue, the Colts went to free agency, bringing in LB D'Qwell Jackson and DE Arthur Jones, while re-signing CB Vontae Davis, DT Fili Moala and S Sergio Brown. Their only offensive move thus far? Re-signing RB Ahmad Bradshaw to what is likely near-league minimum contract. Bringing back Bradshaw is a good move, but hardly earth-shattering.
Whether the moves will notably improve the defense or not next season is yet to be seen, but the commitment to the defense is there from the front office. Now it's up to the coaches and players to produce results on the field.
Keeping Their Own Important
One of the things the Colts have continued to stress in the new era is the importance of character in the locker room. The team has emphasized a unified locker room and family-type atmosphere for the last two years, epitomized in the movement from #Chuckstrong to #Coltstrong last offseason.
This year, the Colts have spent most of their money re-signing their own players, with six of their eight deals being re-signings.
A big part of that focus is keeping continuity in the locker room, something former GM Bill Polian is still actively endorsing. Not only is this a focus from the the front-office side of things, but the players as well.
Take what Vontae Davis said to the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell, for example:
If there wasn't a business side of football, I would still choose to be back with the Colts. So that just says a lot about how strong the organization is. My teammates are like brothers. It's a brotherhood. When you go to the Colts, it's something that you hold with you for the rest of your life.
It would have been hard to leave. It's like leaving your family. I look forward to raising a family. I'm also planning on getting married next year. Everything is just happening perfectly right now in the situation I'm in.'
The Colts putting an emphasis on keeping their own is all part of Ryan Grigson's evolution as a general manager, which is a very positive sign for Colts fans.
Not Yet Finished
While the Colts have been active thus far, nobody should be assuming that they are done making moves. Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star estimates that the team still has over $15 million left in cap space, and the Colts aren't backing down from any of the big-name free agents.
Holder also reports that the Colts are in contact with the Cleveland Browns' Alex Mack, the top free-agent center on the market. Cleveland placed the transition tag on Mack, and it would take an enormous contract to pry him away, so the chances of the Colts picking him up are very small.
Nevertheless, the contact is more than enough proof that the Colts are still in play in free agency. With holes in the starting lineup at center and safety, not to mention depth needs at numerous other positions, that's a good thing.
"Legal Tampering" Period a Success
The NFL's second year of the "legal tampering" window once again led to fireworks across the league, and the Colts were no different.
Vontae Davis' contract negotiations slowed as the tampering window came in, as other teams began contacting Davis. It was rumored at different points prior to Tuesday that Davis was both close to signing with Indianapolis and a completely different team.
Sam Shields' contract with Green Bay was spurred on by the deadline, according to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, and the four-year, $39 million contract for the Packers cornerback drastically impacted the deal Davis would eventually get.
The tampering window also is what allowed Indianapolis to sign Arthur Jones so quickly. Jones' deal was ready to go as soon as the the clock struck 4 p.m. ET, but contract details could be estimated earlier that morning.
Before the tampering window was introduced last year, teams still made contact with free agents illegally, but the legality of it now makes information, smokescreens and rumors fly for every team. In the end, it just makes things a little bit more fun and gets more eyeballs on the league, which is exactly what the league wants.
Indianapolis Is a Prime Free-Agent Destination
While Indianapolis isn't the biggest NFL city, the players and staff the Colts have acquired have seemingly made it a desirable destination for free agents.
First it was James Jones and Hakeem Nicks naming Indianapolis as a potential landing place because of Andrew Luck. Then there is Arthur Jones telling his agent to "get it done" when the Colts contacted him because of Chuck Pagano and Cory Redding, according to Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun. D'Qwell Jackson was swayed by Pagano and former Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski, according to Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
The Colts have created a culture that players want to be a part of. On the offensive side of the ball, you have Andrew Luck, as promising a quarterback as any in the league. On defense, you have Chuck Pagano and respected veterans like Redding and Robert Mathis. Indianapolis, the city, isn't Miami or New York, but the locker rooms are nowhere near comparable either, and that is a good thing.