In the wake of some questionably large contracts, there has been a lot of shock about Grigson's moves both on this blog and in the greater football world. After his brilliant performance last offseason, we expected him to make shrewd deals that catapulted the Colts into contention for the AFC South title while simultaneously setting us up for success in the future. So far, Grigson has signed these players, not including offered tenders (PFF's grade for last season in parentheses):
- Pat McAfee, P, Indianapolis (+51.7)
- Gosder Cherilus, OT, Detroit (+23.5)
- Donald Thomas, G, New England (+11.2)
- Greg Toler, CB, Arizona (+6.8)
- Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis (+5.5)
- Ricky Jean-Francois, DT/DE, San Francisco (+2.2)
- Lawrence Sidbury, DE/OLB, Atlanta (-0.6)
- Fili Moala, DE, Indianapolis (-1.1)
- LaRon Landry, S, NYJ (-3.5)
- Erik Walden, OLB, Green Bay (-25.4)
So, from the looks of this list and the corresponding grades, this has been a pretty successful free agency period so far. The big question is whether Grigson overpaid.
If sports journalists are to be believed, there has been no worse signing for any team so far than the contract the Colts gave Erik Walden. Walden has been graded by PFF as literally the worst edge defender in free agency--receiving a whopping -25.4. This is especially staggering since he is replacing Dwight Freeney who graded out at -0.5, literally 5000% better than Walden. All of this is compounded by the fact that he was offered 16 million dollars over four years. Was Walden overpaid? Absolutely. The more important question here is whether it really matters. In short: no. This contract only comes with 4 million dollars guaranteed. If we cut Walden after one season (or even prior to one season), the cap implications are trivial at worst. If we wind up paying him the full 16 million dollars, it means either Grigson and Irsay have gone insane or that Walden has played well. Contrary to popular belief, this is a very low risk signing.
Next up is Ricky Jean-Francois. He was signed to a 4 year, $22 million deal. Again, many agree that he was overpaid because he is an unproven commodity. Unfortunately, I don't yet know how much is guaranteed. Remember, the total salary does not determine whether a player was overpaid; the guaranteed money does. Regardless, what we do know is that RJF fills a tremendous need on our defense. He doesn't bring much to the table in terms of a pass rush, but 3-4 DEs are supposed to set the edge against the run, and run defense is what RJF is good at. As it stands, he replaces the underperforming Fili Moala. If you put faith in PFF's rankings, that is a 300% improvement. Does his play over the past few seasons merit $5 million per year? Probably not, but it merits pretty close to that. If paying an extra 1 or 2 million dollars per year is what it took to pry him away from other teams, so be it. Let's examine that in terms of opportunity cost. We'll assume RJF was overpaid by $1.5 million for this analysis. Under the new CBA, that amounts to about 3 young veterans with between 2 and 4 years of service. A player who has hit free agency after 2 to 4 years of service and commands nothing but the veteran minimum is usually nothing but a camp body. It's possible they will experience lots of success and become a quality starter, but probably not.
The last player worth considering is LaRon Landry. Landry was signed to a 4 year deal worth 24 million dollars with a whopping 14 million dollars guaranteed. Again, this is an example of overpaying, but the next question is whether it really matters. The answer: yes. This is the only signing that could potentially damage the team. Landry was solid last year, but still graded out negatively. I don't mind the signing in theory, though, because signing a llama with a football helmet would provide an upgrade over Zbikowski's play. I'm not even opposed to offering Landry such a high average salary. Yes, 6 million per year is on par with what elite safeties are paid, but it's an upgrade we desperately needed. So why is this signing different than the other two I've mentioned? Two reasons. 1) The guaranteed money is off the charts, and 2) Landry is injury prone. Either one of those in a vacuum wouldn't bee too much of a problem, but combined they result in some serious concerns. Of the past three seasons, Landry has wound up on IR for 2. During those two seasons, he missed something like a combined 15 games. On the other hand, Landry started every game last season. If we have to cut Landry because of persistent injuries (see: Sanders, Bob), it could have significant cap ramifications, especially if he's cut early in the deal.
With all that said, I still think Grigson is taking too much heat for "overpaying." Yes, we offered a number of players way more money than they probably deserve, but most of them were either necessary upgrades (like Gosder Cherilus and RJF) or are low-risk due to little guaranteed money (like Walden and Sidbury). LaRon Landry's contract is the only one I am upset about, especially given that we could easily have drafted an impact safety in the first round (of Vaccaro, Elam, Reid, and Cyprien, one will be available at 24). The only real concern I have with Grigson's off season moves is the potential that he will rely on Walden and Toler to be starters; neither is good enough to be a quality starter. That question, however, is outside the scope of this article.
tl;dr: Grigson hasn't hurt the team by overpaying.