There are differing philosophies when it comes to building an NFL franchise. The most popular and prominent of those philosophies, however, is to build a contending team through the draft. This is what former Colts general manager Bill Polian did, and it is the method that most general managers in the league take.
There are circumstances, however, when teams are forced to build through free agency. These situations usually arise when a GM is inheriting a bad team or when he has missed on some draft picks. As you can probably tell, that's not the best case scenario. For a player to hit free agency in the first place, there has to be something that caused his previous team to pass on keeping him.
I admit that I'm very much a proponent of the Bill Polian style of building a team - that is, through the draft. I also see a need at times, however, to spend in free agency. When a team builds through the draft and then spends in free agency to keep their own players, to me that's a clear sign that they're close.
Close to what, you might ask? Close to being a championship team, or at least one that contends for a title. And that's precisely where I think the Colts are - holes and all.
So far, here are the Colts moves in the past few days: re-signed punter Pat McAfee, re-signed Cam Johnson, re-signed Justin Hickman, signed D'Qwell Jackson from the Browns, re-signed Adam Vinatieri, re-signed Sergio Brown, re-signed Vontae Davis, re-signed Ahmad Bradshaw, and signed Arthur Jones from the Ravens. So far, seven players re-signed and two signed. That doesn't mean a whole lot, but it shows that the Colts are much closer than many might think.
Under Ryan Grigson, the Colts have built up a playoff team each of the past two years. Much of their foundation has come through the draft: quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, running back Vick Ballard, outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, and even players like Josh Chapman at nose tackle or undrafted free agent Delano Howell joined the team as rookies and could potentially have a significant impact - as well as undrafted wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers.
At the same time, there have been a number of free agent signings, too: defensive linemen Cory Redding and Ricky Jean Francois, linebacker Erik Walden (not to mention Jerrell Freeman, who was signed out of the CFL by Grigson), cornerback Greg Toler, safety LaRon Landry, and offensive linemen Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus. Plus throw in a few trades - such as those for running back Trent Richardson or cornerback Vontae Davis - and the Colts have been built through several avenues, but the reason for that is because Ryan Grigson inherited a bad team.
The year before Grigson arrived, the Colts were a league-worst 2-14. It was a roster full of aging players and several who just weren't that good, and without Peyton Manning they completely fell apart. Grigson was forced to rebuild the team (it helped a lot getting Andrew Luck with the first overall pick) and the Colts made the playoffs in his first year. That placed pressure on Grigson to build through free agency, but that didn't work out too well and his second draft didn't either. Now, off of back-to-back playoff appearances, it's a good sign that the Colts are spending a lot of their money on their own players. Those are the most successful teams, as it means that they made right decisions earlier and have good players worth keeping. They have several of those, and there are several more to come in the years to follow.
The Colts had upwards of $40 million cap room to spend this offseason, and certainly with that kind of money and plenty of holes to fill the Colts will be adding players through free agency - and that's ok! Free agency can be a tremendous way to provide a team with a boost that might be what they needed to compete (or, if a once in a lifetime free agent comes along like Peyton Manning it can change an entire franchise, but that is nearly unprecedented). The Colts can add some valuable pieces through free agency - but their first priorities were to keep their own, which shows that they have made some good decisions in the past few years and that those players are worth keeping around. Normally, those are the teams that are contending come January.
The Colts have work to do, that 's for sure. There are still several holes to fill, and some of them will still be in free agency. But with the moves they made today, it shows that they're close, and that's a credit to general manager Ryan Grigson.