Let me start by stating that I am in favor of our free agent acquisitions overall. If there is one thing that 99% of us can agree on, it's that Mr. Grigson has indeed improved the roster. The 2013 Colts look better, at least on paper, than the 2012 team that won us 11 games (shoulda been 12... damn Jaguars). Where most of the division is coming from, for us fans at least, are the values of these signings.
Cherilus, whom most did not consider the #1 Rt in this crop of free agents, signed a contract that averages him 6.8M/year. That makes him the 2nd highest paid man at his position in the NFL. Toler was not considered to be the #1 corner available, yet we set the market on that position by offering him roughly 5M/year and once again over-paid (in most people's opinion). After two injury stricken seasons LaRon Landry is coming to us after a Pro Bowl year with the Jets. We are paying him, on average, 6M/year (I believe 13M guaranteed) which is on par with the best safeties in the game. Walden, a Lb out of Green Bay that few of us have heard of, has received a contract that averages him 4M/year with 8M guaranteed over the first two seasons. PFF ranks Walden dead last amongst all 3-4 outside line backers, not only for this past season but also the season before that. De/Dt Ricky Jean-Francois, our most recent hire, is being paid 5.5M/year after coming to us from the 49ers where he was third on the depth chart at his position. The two most economical signings so far are Donald Thomas, former Patriots G, and Lawrence Sidbury (a De from Atl. that will most likely play OLB for us).
I cannot defend the values of these signings. We spent early on positions that were deep in free agency (I'm talking about OT and CB) and we set the market for these positions. Guys like Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith, and Eric Winston were all available when we went after Gosder (again not considered to be the top player at his position). So why did we do this? We could have waited for the top players at these positions to be signed and then could have used their contracts as references to get better values out of our own dealings. Actually, we could have gone after these top names (like a Vollmer, Sean Smith, or a Talib) our selves and paid them, but instead we quickly snatched up THESE names: Cherilus; Toler; Walden.
To me what this means is that Mr. Grigson had a clear picture of what he wanted to get out of free agency. He had a list of players that he wanted and he was going to get them no matter what. It is not like Grigson was simply unaware of the other players that the pundits had ranked above his targets. He chose the men he did despite what other options were available. He has a clear vision of what this team should look like and the players that he has chosen apparently fit that vision better than anyone else available. If he had wanted Vollmer he could have bought him, if he had wanted Kruger he could have bought him, if he had wanted Aquib Talib... again, he could have bought him. We got our targets and we paid more for them because they were his Plan-A guys. I'm sure that he had back-up plans for each player but he wanted these specific players because of how they fit into his idea of what we should become. These players were hand picked to fit Grigson's vision and so they were worth an extra 1-2M/year.
He could have let them test the waters more, and perhaps he would have gotten better deals that way, but he wanted to lock these guys up fast. He obviously didn't want to take a chance on them signing elsewhere. To me this is very encouraging because I have faith in what Grigson sees on tape (he's earned my faith after last off season). He has had months to study tape on all of the guys that were going to hit the market, I'm sure he has spent countless hours researching just about everyone out there. After all of the work that he put in, the players that we signed were the ones that jumped out the most to him. He obviously looked deep too, finding guys with upside like Sidbury, Toler, and RJF even though they had limited exposure. This was his A-Team, and if they don't pan out then we can start to question his scouting ability. I personally believe that most of these signings are going to have big impacts for our football team. I'd like to briefly go over each signing and give my opinion on what they will bring to the team in 2013.
1.) Cherilus- He will be as solid of a Rt as you will find in the NFL. He has improved every year since being drafted and already knows one of his teammates on the O-line (Castonzo). I think that the unit that Grigson is building on the OL will be a very cohesive one that will gel quickly. He chose Gosder because of, not only his physical abilities (a top pass blocking RT), but because of his love of the game and his desire to get better on his way to becoming elite.
2.) Toler- A very good coverage corner who plays the position very physically (QBs completed only 41.5% of the passes thrown at him... that's tops in the league folks) . He has very good size for the position and his upside is as high as anyone's on the team (save Luck). This guy has Pagano written all over him.
3.) Walden- A very physical player who I believe caught Grigson's eye when we played Green Bay last year (that was by far Walden's best performance of his career). This move perplexed me, like many of you, but I trust what Grigson sees in him. He is actually ranked 3rd in the league amongst 3-4 OLBers in coverage, so there is a positive. From what I have found on him he could be a force at setting the edge on defense and can take on blockers to free up other play-makers. Let's give the guy a chance to prove him self before we grab our pitch forks. Maybe he can be our reverse Tim Jennings
4.) Thomas- He is a very solid signing by Grigson IMO. He is another "under the radar" type of player who has proven to be very productive when given the chance. According to some, he actually out-played whoever the starter was that he replaced on the Patriots OL. He should start and be an effective interior player who I expect to have a large impact in the running game. Remember that the Patriots running attack was fearsome last year and Thomas was helping to open up those lanes. Perhaps he can do the same for his old friend Donald Brown (both played at U-Con.) and he can finally break out this year. (Fingers crossed)
5.) Landry- I'm very excited about Landry's potential in our defense. He is, in some ways, a bigger Bob Sanders. He hits hard... really, really hard. He has great size at 6' and 220 lbs and can flat out fly (supposedly in the 4.3 range... that's just stupid). He is the physical type of player that our defense desperately needs. Landry will be an intimidating enforcer that can hit like a line backer but is also athletic enough to cover the TE. I expect Pagano/Manusky to use him in the box a lot, and hopefully we won't have to see guys running for scores un-punished anymore. I'm only worried about his durability, that's the only area where I hope that he and Bob differ. Also Zibs can now be cut to save a little more cap room.
6.) RJF- We needed another stout DL guy. Redding was pretty good last season but was injured often and when he was out, our guys just couldn't get any push. Nevis also showed some promise but has durability concerns as well. RJF is a very versatile D-lineman and I believe he will be a disruptive force in our system. He is a solid player who should eat up blockers and allow our linebackers to do their thing. He is a guy that seems like he's out to prove something and I believe that is why he was so highly coveted by Grigson. He has a chip on his shoulder and has some talent. That can be a deadly combination and Grigson wasn't the only one who saw it... A lot of other teams wanted this guy. I think we did well with him.
7.) Sidbury- This guy is intriguing. He has shown that he has the ability to effectively rush the passer but due to politics within the Falcons organization, he never got his shot. Falcon's fans were not happy to see him go so that is a good sign for us. Perhaps Grigson has plans to use him as a pass rushing specialist in certain situations? He is a low risk high reward signing with a lot of potential as a pass rushing OLB project.
Anyhow that is my take on this off season so far. While we did overpay and I said that I can't exactly defend that, I think that we got exactly who we wanted and that is encouraging. Grigson and Pagano seem to have a very clear picture of what this team should look like in 2013 and I'm starting to see it too. It's a Monster folks. A team full of hungry young players with something to prove who fight hard for their coach. I think Grigson is putting a lot of effort into finding guys with the right mindset to be a Colt. Our team is bursting with potential, and as good as we were last year, we are easily going to be better this season. With a strong and intimidating defense to pair up with our already strong offense (whose OL is improving), we truly will be a monster. Sure there are holes still, but they are disappearing quickly and with the draft still to come, our outlook for 2013 and beyond is very bright.
I hope many of you are as fired up as I am.
As always, I'm glad to see some comments from you guys.