Best and Worst Moves the Indianapolis Colts Made in Free Agency
Free agency, for all intents and purposes, is complete and open for judgment. While the Indianapolis Colts could still pick up a few more role players, it seems that Ryan Grigson has done what he intended.
Now we look back at each of the signings and discuss their merits. In general, I've been much more optimistic about this year's free agency, especially compared to last season's debacle. The Colts structured their long-term deals in a way that doesn't cripple them financially, yet still managed to make some high-impact moves.
I gave Grigson a B+ for the offseason, so keep that in mind for this exercise. While there are moves I disagree with, and they are labeled as "worst" in this piece, none of the moves are the end of the world for the franchise and should be remedied relatively easily.
So which moves will we look back on with fondness, rather than disgust?
Best: WR Hakeem Nicks
The Colts' best signing of the year thus far, Hakeem Nicks is a big boost to a receiving corps that desperately needed starting talent.
Nicks had down seasons in 2012 and 2013, catching less than 60 balls each year and just three touchdowns combined. He has also struggled with injuries in the past, never playing 16 games in a season.
But, Nicks still managed two seasons of 70-plus catches and over 1,000 yards, and he has the talent to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Nicks, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton should be a fantastic wide receiver corps for QB Andrew Luck next season. Even if he doesn't work out, Nicks' one-year, $3.975 million contract isn't hampering the Colts financially.
Worst: LB D'Qwell Jackson
Former Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is a big name and casual fans want him to be the savior of the linebacker corps. Unfortunately, Jackson hasn't lived up to his name for the last two seasons, and his large tackle numbers don't mean much in the grand scheme of things.
Jackson is decent in coverage, and he is versatile enough to play three downs, but he's a huge liability in run defense. He makes a lot of tackles, and he is a very reliable tackler, but his tackles come five yards from the line of scrimmage, after the damage is already done.
Is Jackson an upgrade over Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner and Kelvin Sheppard? Yes but not as much as other linebackers on the market, like Karlos Dansby. Daryl Smith would have been a better coverage option as well, although he's just as much of a liability against the run. Jackson's contract isn't a killer, but I just don't see him making the kind of impact that fans, and the team, are hoping for.
Best: Re-Signing Key Special Teamers
While underrated, the Colts re-signing punter Pat McAfee, kicker Adam Vinatieri and gunner Sergio Brown were critical moves for 2014. The Colts' special teams still needs some improvement on coverage but in the last two seasons, the Colts' special teams DVOA has been the highest it's been since 2003, per Football Outsiders.
Of course, the Colts special teams hasn't exactly had high standards over the years but by bringing the three best special teamers from 2013 back on reasonable contracts, the Colts alleviate some pressure. They no longer have to focus on replacing two of the best kickers in the league, and Brown is a very good gunner with experience in the Colts' special teams unit.
Worst: C Phil Costa
Costa isn't on this list because signing him for two years on a $2.75 million contract is a bad deal but because it was the only move the team made at center. Costa isn't fit to be a starter, which is why Dallas drafted Travis Frederick in the first round last year.
The Colts are not quite comfortable with 2013 fourth-round draft pick Khaled Holmes as the lone starter, but they shouldn't be comfortable with Costa as well. Other centers, affordable centers, were available in free agency, like Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Center isn't a critical position, but it's still one that could have been upgraded in free agency and instead the Colts brought in Costa.
Best: RB Ahmad Bradshaw
Like the Hakeem Nicks move, Bradshaw is a low-risk signing with high potential. Bradshaw ran with a purpose last season, and he was devastatingly effective when asked to start against the 49ers in Week 3. He may be asked to fill that role again in 2014.
Bradshaw's ability to both run and pass block well gives him an edge over both Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson, both of whom have flashed ability at both traits but have never been able to harness it consistently.
Of course, it all depends on health. If healthy, Bradshaw is a versatile, dependable back. If not, then he's just another body on the bench, and the Colts will need to replace him with somebody reliable to complete their running back rotation. Either way, Bradshaw's $855,000 contract isn't a risk.
Worst: Not Going After a Safety
Much like the center move, the Colts' inaction at safety in free agency is less about the harm it did to the team and more about the potential value that was missed.
The Colts need to fill the hole left by Antoine Bethea in some way. They can do that by either moving Landry to strong safety, which many believe is his best role, and then signing a coverage-oriented free safety or signing a strong safety.
No matter which way the Colts wanted to go, there were very affordable options on the free-agent market. T.J. Ward, the best strong safety in the league, signed with Denver for a very reasonable $5.625 million per year. He would have made a fantastic upgrade over Bethea.
If the Colts wanted to go free safety, Chris Clemons is on the market for what should be a short deal worth less than $3 million per year. Clemons is reliable in coverage and would make the search for a long-term starter much smoother.
Instead, the Colts have opted to stick with Delano Howell (and possibly Sergio Brown) and the option of drafting a safety. While this plan could work out great, it's simply odd that this particular hole could have been filled at a reasonable price with little risk but was left untouched. I understand the desire to save money for the large upcoming contracts, but there was value available.