Thanks in large part to the team’s positive culture, General Manger Ryan Grigson has been able to fill three of their major needs – a proven veteran wide receiver (Nicks), more talent on the defensive line (Jones) and a solid starter at inside linebacker (Jackson) – without overpaying.
In fact, Nicks and Jackson both left money on the table to come to Indianapolis, which was nice, given the amount of cash that had to be shoveled onto Vontae Davis’ plate. Jones made it clear to his agent that once the Colts expressed interest, he had no interest in going elsewhere.
>> Nicks: “Obviously I had other options but I feel like this is the best fit for me. Part of being a free agent is making the choice where you want to go. We all know I’m a football player and I feel like this is the best fit for me. The football coaches, I’ve heard a lot of great things about them. Andrew Luck is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game today and I would love to play with him.”
>> Jones: “When I found out Indy was one of the teams interested in me, it was really a no-brainer. I told my agent, ‘You need to get this thing done. This is where I want to be.’ And he made things happen.”
>> Jackson: “A lot of things happen in this business and every guy has a reason why they play the game. In my opinion, I’m going into year nine, I’ve made a good living so far so the decision for me was easy. It wasn’t a financial decision, it was a decision to be around a good group of guys first and foremost and a team that was willing to get to the Super Bowl.”
And each represents an upgrade.
Nicks gives the Colts a desperately needed option at wide receiver. With Reggie Wayne coming back from knee surgery, there was nothing but uncertainty beyond T.Y. Hilton. Though Nicks could bolt next season, the Colts now have the opportunity to draft and develop a prospect to have him ready for 2015. Even if he only is here for one year, he’ll be an exponentially better option than Darrius Heyward-Bey was last season.
Jones is a solid run-stopper who also has been effective generating push in the pass rush, both areas of deficiency in the defensive front. Exactly who he will supplant remains to be seen, but it would appear he will at least share time with Cory Redding and Rick Jean Francois, and could also factor into the mix at nose tackle.
Jackson will bring stability and consistent productivity to a position that has been a revolving door the past two seasons, in part due to injuries to former starter Pat Angerer but also in part to a general lack of production. A capable run-stopper, he should improve the second level’s ability to hang with backs and tight ends in coverage.
And then there is center Phil Costa, who simply doesn’t have much of a resume to analyze, but the school of thought is anyone would represent an upgrade over Samson Satele, so there’s that. The wild card in the mix is Khaled Holmes, a prized draft pick last year who couldn’t crack the rotation.
Costa’s signing may mitigate the need at center but it is not eliminated.
They still need a safety with range and coverage skills to complement thumper LaRon Landry. The loss of Antoine Bethea to San Francisco certainly will be felt in the locker room, although was too similar to Landry in style and skill level for the two to form a strong tandem.
Quality depth on the offensive line seems to be a permanent quest, and Jeff Linkenbach’s departure to Kansas City increases the need, but there is plenty of time and opportunity to patch things together.
A first-impression evaluation of Grigson’s third free agent class goes something like this: so far, so good.
COLTS FREE AGENCY TRACKER
FREE AGENTS SIGNED
>> PHIL COSTA, C, Dallas (two years, up to $3.5 million including incentives): A little-used backup the past two years who has experience at both guard and center, Costa provides a live body at center, if not necessarily an upgrade in the starting lineup.
>> D’QWELL JACKSON, ILB, Cleveland (four years, $22 million): Will step right in and fill the need for a starter next to Jerrell Freeman. A prolific tackler in eight seasons with Cleveland, Jackson has proven not only productive but durable. Whether he is an elite run-stopper remains to be seen but he eliminates the game-to-game uncertainty that dogged this position the past two years.
>> ARTHUR JONES, DL, Baltimore (five years, $33 million): Brings a reputation for generating push in the pass rush while stuffing it in the run, and just might be the Colts’ best defensive lineman before taking a snap. The question is where he will play and neither Jones nor the Colts are offering any hints – other than to suggest the likelihood of multiple fronts, and multiple combinations, in 2014.
>> HAKEEM NICKS, WR, N.Y. Giants (one year, $3.975 million): When talent and motivation converge, it can be an ideal combination and that’s the case here. After injuries mitigated his production, and earning power, the past two seasons, Nicks now gets the opportunity to re-establish himself as an elite wideout. If he stays healthy, that should be easily accomplished.
FREE AGENTS RE-SIGNED
>> AHMAD BRADSHAW, RB (one year, $855,000): Low-risk move could pay big dividends as Bradshaw, if healthy, could be a superb third-down option. But it’s a big if.
>> SERGIO BROWN, S: Excellent special teams player who has had limited impact on the defense, but that may change this season.
>> VONTAE DAVIS, CB (four years, $39 million): A major roll of the dice, but Davis was one of the highest-rated corners on the market and that, combined wit his age, pushed his asking price to the top of the charts. If the Colts didn’t pay him, someone else like the Jets would have. That isn’t always the best argument for a massive contract but in this case, Grigson simply did not want to consider Plan B.
>> PAT McAFEE, P (five years, $14 million): One of the game’s biggest legs and a superb situational punter, McAfee gets two more years to work on his field goal kicking.
>> FILI MOALA, DL: (one year, $1.4 million): A solid and versatile role-player provides needed depth across the defensive front.
>> ADAM VINATIERI, K (two years, $5 million): Though father time is now his brother, Vinatieri remains one of the game’s most reliable kickers and his accuracy from distance has improved in recent years, so he isn’t losing any leg. A contending team needs a kicker it can count on, so retaining Vinatieri was a wise move.
FREE AGENTS LOST
>> PAT ANGERER, LB (unsigned): A solid producer when healthy, Angerer simply couldn’t stay on the field the past two years and so the team opted for the more durable and consistently productive Jackson.
>> ANTOINE BETHEA, S (San Francisco, four years, $23 million): One of the most respected players in the locker room, Bethea became redundant last year when LaRon Landry was signed, effectively giving the Colts two strong safeties.
>> DONALD BROWN, RB (San Diego, three years, $10.5 million): Like Bethea, Brown was a locker room favorite, a veteran who never complained and was always ready when called upon. But he, took was made expendable with the acquisitions of Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw and seized what is likely his last opportunity for a sizeable contract.
>> KAVELL CONNER, ILB, (San Diego, three years, terms undisclosed): Another veteran who didn’t fit in Pagano’s 3-4 scheme, Conner started 36 games from 2010-12 but none last season. The Chargers expect him to provide quality depth as well as situational usage as a run-stopper.
>> JEFF LINKENBACH, OL (Kansas City, one year, $900,000): Though he started 33 games the past four seasons, he was never able to lock down a full-time spot. His experience, combined with the ability to play both guard and tackle, make him an attractive backup.
>> SAMSON SATELE, C (unsigned): After two disappointing seasons, the Colts cut ties with the veteran center, which was a popular move with fans but nevertheless creates a gaping hole in the middle of the offensive line. They most certainly will be different at center next year but whether the Colts will be better remains to be seen.