>> It gave the Colts perhaps the most physical defensive backfield in the NFL, not to mention one of the deepest defensive lines.
>> It pushed Jim Irsay’s potential financial commitment to the current free agent class beyond $127 million.
Landry’s reported four-year, $24 million deal was the team’s second-largest of the free agency period (so far), beyond only the five-year, $35 million commitment to right tackle Gosder Cherilus.
Mix in $22 million over four years for defensive lineman Jean-Francois, the former 49er; $16 million over four years for linebacker Erik Walden; $15 million over three years for cornerback Greg Toler; $14 million over four years for guard Donald Thomas; and a minimum deal ($715,000) for linebacker Lawrence Sidbury, and Irsay’s on the hook for slightly more than $127 million, assuming all of the players play out the balance of their contracts without renegotiation.
What has Irsay gotten for his money?
NEEDS FILLED UP FRONT, OUT BACK
Though a natural strong safety, the position currently occupied by Antoine Bethea, Landry also has played extensively at free safety. Either way, the 6-0, 220-pound veteran brings a rare combination of speed and power to the secondary. Not only is he extremely difficult to beat over the top, he is a beast of a hitter both in coverage and run support.
Toler, also known for his physical play, including aggressive tackling in run support, is expected to move in at the corner opposite Vontae Davis, who impressed the Colts with his strong tackling and physical play last season. With Darius Butler re-signed and Cassius Vaughn under a right-of-first-refusal tender, there is quality depth here.
On the offensive line, massive Gosder Cherilus, a 6-7, 325-pound athlete, will hold things down nicely at right tackle. He was a strong pass blocker in Detroit and when the Lions needed a couple of yards on the ground, they typically behind him.
Thomas was primarily a backup in New England, playing both guard positions as well as center, but is expected to step in at left guard, which was something of a revolving door last season. A late-bloomer who started his athletic career as a basketball player but shifted to football while at UConn, Thomas graded out higher than both of the Patriots’ starting guards, according to some scouting services.
That provides a starting group of Anthony Castonzo, Thomas, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn and Cherilus, backed by veterans Joe Reitz, Jeff Linkenbach and A.Q. Shipley. Suddenly the O-line looks not only solid but deep.
GAMBLING ON WALDEN, INVESTING IN JEAN-FRANCOIS
While needs almost certainly have been filled in those two areas, one of the team’s most pressing remains a question mark.
Grigson clearly has strong belief in Walden, who totaled 53 quarterback pressures (a combination of sacks, hits and hurries) the past two seasons, a solid number for a part-time player. Pro Football Focus panned the signing, understandable given the site had him ranked as the worst outside linebacker in the NFL the past two seasons, but Grigson quite obviously feels otherwise.
Walden has made it clear he intends to become the man, when it comes to the Colts’ pass rush, and he certainly will get that chance. He very likely won’t be as productive as the Dwight Freeney in his prime, but there’s little chance he’ll be less productive than the Freeney of the past two seasons. And don’t forget Jerry Hughes is still around. OK, forget if you want.
Jean-Francois also seems a bit of a financial reach, given his history as a backup in San Francisco, but can play all three line spots. It’s not clear yet where the Colts intend to use him, but he adds athleticism to a group that will regain Brandon McKinney, Josh Chapman and Drake Nevis from injuries to join Cory Redding, Fili Moala, Ricardo Mathews and Lawrence Guy.
FEW NEEDS LEFT TO FILL
There are a couple of remaining items on the checklist.
With Drew Stanton’s departure for Arizona, where he rejoins Bruce Arians, the Colts could use a veteran backup quarterback – unless they feel strongly about Chandler Harnish. He does offer the possibility of some read-option looks from offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, given Harnish’s productivity as a runner in college, but it would be nice to have some experience behind Andrew Luck, just in case.
And with Donnie Avery signing with Kansas City, another wide receiver would help. This is an area that could be addressed via the draft, given Grigson’s success in pulling T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill last season. And one name to keep in mind is Griff Whalen, who looked good as a slot guy in camp last year before his injury and is another of Hamilton’s former Stanford standouts.
One of the most significant byproducts of the free agent flurry is the freedom afforded Grigson to go best-player-available throughout next month’s NFL Draft. He did an unusually good job last year, particularly when faced with the challenge of filling needs with rookies, so it will be intriguing to see what the reigning executive of the year has in store this time around, with hands untied.