Entering the day, fans and media alike were allowing the speculation to run wild as to who the Colts might sign in free agency with their large amount of cap room to work with. Some of the biggest names in free agency were thrown around as possibilities. And then the signings started coming in. Gosder Cherilus, Greg Toler, Erik Walden, Donald Thomas, Lawrence Sidbury. Who? They finished off the night by re-signing Darius Butler, but the moves left many puzzled and confused as to what Ryan Grigson is doing and debating whether he made the right moves.
Here's my advice: relax. Let's wait and see what else the NFL's Executive of the Year has up his sleeve. That said, let's take a quick look at who the Colts did sign today, and what it means going forward.
OT Gosder Cherilus
Cherilus was the first round draft choice of the Detroit Lions in 2008 (17 overall) and started 71 of 74 games there. Last season he was ranked by PFF as one of their best pass protectors, allowing only 5 sacks all year. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, who's NFL1000 series has been must read stuff, ranked Cherilus as the seventh best right tackle in the NFL. I really like this signing - the only thing is that I'm not sure he is worth the money he got. His contract is reportedly for 5 years and $34 million. Also, he has had some injury concerns, and 5 years is quite a lengthy contract for a guy like that, but I won't complain to much about that. That said, Cherilus is an immediate upgrade at RT and will figure to give Andrew Luck improved protection next season.
CB Greg Toler
Greg Toler has started 15 games and appeared in 38 in his four years with the Cardinals. He has totaled 128 tackles, 19 pass deflections, 5 interceptions (2 returned for scores), and 1 sack in his career. He only started 2 games (appearing in 11) last year and as a result saw his stats decrease, but he did make the highlight reel with a 102-yard pick-6. Just 2 years ago, in 2010, Toler notched 90 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, and picked off 2 passes while starting 13 games. This move is a good move for an underrated player. While his reported contract of 3 years, $15 million may seem a bit high, Toler figures to start outside at corner opposite Vontae Davis. He was pretty good against the pass in 2012, at least according to PFF:
Teams throwing at Greg Toler last year had a QB rating of 51.5, 5th best mark in NFL. 2nd? Darius Butler at 39.5 #Colts— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 13, 2013
Overall, this was another very solid move by Ryan Grigson and was another probable starter, and sure upgrade, that was signed in free agency. Matt Miller said via twitter:
One of my favorite signings of the day: CB Greg Toler to the #Colts. Physical, tough cornerback. Very good opposite Vontae Davis.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 12, 2013
LB Erik Walden
Walden entered the league in 2008 and has spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs (2008), Miami Dolphins (2008-2010) and Green Bay Packers (2010-2012), starting a combined 26 games and appearing in 68. He has 163 career tackles, 9 sacks, 7 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble. However, PFF consistently ranks him as one of the league's worst pass rushers on one of the league's worst pass rush units overall (Packers - apart from Clay Matthews there is nothing there). Walden is not an upgrade over Dwight Freeney, and in fact some have wondered whether or not he is even an upgrade over Jerry Hughes. Whoa, hold up - the Colts just signed a guy who is even near the same caliber of Jerry Hughes to a 4 year, $15 million contract? Yeah, this one is the most confusing of all of the moves today, probably throughout the entire NFL. I wrote a week or two ago that Jerry Hughes could very well get the first shot at the starting spot, and considering today's moves, that may be even more accurate than I thought. Truth be told, I think Dwight Freeney would have been a better option here for the Colts. I don't get this signing, and I really don't get the money that Ryan Grigson gave him.
OG Donald Thomas
Thomas spent the first two years of his career with the Dolphins (2008-2009) and the most recent two with the Patriots (2010-2011). He has played in 43 games and started 21. While he was not officially a starter last year for New England, he played a significant number of snaps and was impressive in doing so. The Patriots' offensive line is among the best in the league, so signing a backup from them is not an automatic indication of a bad player. In fact, I think this move is a rather good one for the Colts. I haven't seen contract details yet, and that will obviously influence my opinion of the move, but from first looks Thomas appears to be a solid guard who may have a chance to start next season in Indianapolis.
DE Lawrence Sidbury
In 4 seasons in Atlanta, Sidbury totaled 17 tackles and 5 sacks in 48 games for the Falcons. He has never started a game in his career. Perhaps most concerning, however, is that in 10 appearances in 2012, he recorded one tackle. One freaking tackle. He showed potential in 2011, recording 4 sacks, but lost favor with the coaching staff in 2012. He has potential, I'm just not sure how much or if it's worth taking a chance on. Like Thomas, I haven't seen details on his contract, but if it is anything even somewhat substantial, this move will look all the more puzzling.
CB Darius Butler
The only move so far I got right in my predictions yesterday (there's still time left!), the Colts re-signed Darius Butler to a two year contract. I wrote in depth about why this was a necessity for the Colts, which you can read here, but in short he was an essential part of the playoff run last year. He picked off 4 passes and returned 2 for touchdowns while appearing in 11 games and starting 4. For his career, he has started 18 games and played in 53, notching 121 tackles, 28 pass deflections, 7 interceptions (3 scores), and 1 forced fumble. Like the previous two players, the salary terms have not been released yet but this was a move that had to happen. Butler is a very good number three corner and will play in the slot, alongside what figures to be Vontae Davis and Greg Toler starting outside.
- LaRon Landry, the Jet's free agent safety, will visit Indianapolis and is a real possibility for the Colts to sign. If that happens, it could mean that Ed Reed will not come to Indy. Again, the news has been rather quiet on Reed today, but I still have a hunch that the Colts will pursue him. If they sign Landry, however, that may become doubtful.
- 49ers' free agent NT/DE Ricky Jean-Francois will visit the Eagles, and if he leaves without a contract then the Colts likely would be next.
Bottom line is that I now have no idea where the Colts will head next. I thought I had a pretty good idea entering the day (Cliff Avril, Louis Vasquez, etc.)... not anymore. Ryan Grigson will likely sign a few more low-profile players, which although it's not what fans would choose his patience and willingness to hold off of the big name guys could pay off in the end. Only time will tell, but after day one there were some good moves to sign talented, underrated guys who will help (Cherilus, Toler, Thomas) and also some very questionable moves (Walden, Sidbury), plus a re-signing that was huge (Butler). While many fans are left wondering what Grigson is doing, I like his patience and I trust that he knows what he's doing.
Although, you know, I understand why giving Erik Walden $15 million over 4 years could lead to some questions.