"Phil Costa?" "Seriously?" "Is he even an upgrade over Samson Satele?" These were some of the things that fans were saying shortly after the move was announced, and it hasn't really cooled off much since. There is still a lot of questions and a lot of confusion as to what the Colts are going to do with their center position, and quite honestly, I'm confused as well. I don't know, nor do I pretend to know, what the Colts are going to do from here, but I've thought up several scenarios that I think has the situation mostly covered as to what the Colts are going to do at center, factoring in the Phil Costa signing:
Option 1: Have Phil Costa and Khaled Holmes battle for the starting spot in training camp
Why this could be true: Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano sometimes put way too much faith into players that they shouldn't. While there are many things worse than this, it also can mean that they stick with bad players for a longer period of time because they don't want to give up on them. In Khaled Holmes' situation, he didn't get to play much last season, so there is a chance that Grigson and Pagano want to give him an opportunity this year. Bringing in Phil Costa would provide good competition and depth, or should he win the battle in camp, he could be their starting center.
Why this seems doubtful: Where to really begin? Perhaps with the little fact that Phil Costa isn't that good and that Khaled Holmes has shown absolutely nothing in his NFL career so far? Costa is an average center (at best) while I have serious red flags about Holmes after he was unable to get on the field with last year's offensive line. Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano surely have to realize that Costa and Holmes are not enough at the center position to feel good about it and not nearly enough to allow Andrew Luck to sleep easy tonight.
Bottom line: This option seems like the most doubtful of all three, and by a wide margin. I honestly cannot imagine the Colts entering the offseason with center as the biggest need (in my opinion), having over $40 million in cap room, cutting their starting center for the past two years, and then signing Phil Costa to protect their franchise player Andrew Luck. That just doesn't make sense, does it? If that was the Colts plan, then it was a flawed plan from the very beginning and was terrible, but I don't think that the Colts will enter camp with just Costa and Holmes battling for the starting spot.
Option 2: Phil Costa is insurance in case the Colts can't get someone else
Why this could be true: We know the Colts have inquired about Alex Mack, and we know the Colts are aware that this position is a big need. Heck, they even released their starting center, so they made it obvious to everyone that they were looking for a center. They wouldn't go straight from interest in Alex Mack to signing Phil Costa, so there has to be something else going on. Perhaps Costa was signed as an insurance just in case the Colts don't get another center. It seems very unlikely that the Colts will sign Alex Mack, but there are some other good centers on the market: Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jonathan Goodwin, and Brian de la Puente. While it would make sense for the Colts to go after one of them, they would want to make sure that they had someone there who could be insurance in case they didn't get them - perhaps that is Costa. If so, that's not a good sign for Khaled Holmes.
Why this seems doubtful: Why would the Colts need an insurance plan this early? There will likely be several centers of similar talent to Costa available later, after the other centers (Mack, Dietrich-Smith, Goodwin, de la Puente) have all signed. On just the third day of free agency, it seems very strange to already add a player just in case they can't get someone else. It seems much more obvious just to go after one of the other centers mentioned directly instead of signing a guy as insurance. The fact that Costa was signed on the third day of free agency with those other centers still available suggests that perhaps this wasn't just an insurance move.
Bottom line: This is much more likely than the first one, and perhaps the most likely of all three options. While it seems strange that they would need (or think they need) insurance like Costa this early on, there have been stranger things that have happened, and it makes perfect sense that the Colts would still go after another free agent center despite having signed Costa.
Option 3: Phil Costa is purely a depth player after the Colts add someone else
Why this could be true: Honestly, Phil Costa just isn't that good. Signing him to seriously compete for a starting job or something of the like could very well reflect very poorly on Ryan Grigson. And, while it doesn't make sense to address the depth before addressing the starters, the result could still be the same thing. That's one of the reasons why it's important not to rush into complete judgements of moves too quickly.
Why this seems doubtful: The Colts signed Costa to a 2-year, $2.7 million deal with a possibility to reach $3.5 million if he hits playing time incentives. That's not outrageous for a center, but that seems like quite a bit to bring a guy in for depth. For Ryan Grigson to sign him on the third day of free agency, he obviously must think that Costa can be a good player for the Colts and that would seem to suggest that this was more than purely a depth move.
Bottom line: This one seems unlikely because of the money that Ryan Grigson paid to him and the fact that he was signed on the third day of free agency - still early on in the process. Now is not the time to be addressing depth at a position where they desperately need a starter. If that's indeed what Ryan Grigson is doing, he is working backwards and it doesn't make sense, but I guess if they arrive at the same destination it doesn't make much difference.
So what seems like the most likely situation?
Based purely on reasoning, which I conducted above, I've tried to figure out what seems to be the most logical and likely course of action for the Colts and how the Phil Costa signing factors in.
Firstly, the fact that the Colts signed him to a deal on the third day of free agency to a 2-year, $2.7 million deal (with the possibility of it rising to $3.5 million) complicates things, but at the same time it's not a ton to pay someone and Ryan Grigson can definitely get away with that contract. Secondly, it doesn't make sense to rely on Khaled Holmes to strongly compete for a starting spot (or even win it), as he showed nothing last year. That doesn't mean he can't do it, just that the Colts absolutely can't be counting on it. If Holmes couldn't get into the lineup last year, there must be some serious red flags. If he develops into a good player then it's fantastic, but the Colts can't be banking on it.
That means that Phil Costa must either have been signed to start or have been signed as depth with another signing still to come. Based on what I have heard, read, and seen on film from Costa today, I can't imagine that the Colts made the move with the intent of having him start next season. In 2011 he started all 16 games for the Cowboys (not playing that well) and by 2013, he played in only 3 games all year (starting 0). He's just not that good, and at best he's an average center in the NFL. That can't be the Colts plan at center.
Furthermore, consider Ryan Grigson's comments distributed by the team after the signing:
"Phil is a young, hard-nosed and physical center who has shown he can play at a winning level in our league. He will provide strong competition at the center position."
I don't know how much you pay attention to these things, but Grigson typically says much more than 2 sentences about players the Colts sign (if they're significant additions) and he, along with every other GM, normally doesn't talk about the player providing competition when the move was made to add a starter. When general managers make comments like the one Grigson did about providing strong competition at the position, it implies very obviously that the team is not comfortable with the player as a starter but that he will certainly be given a chance to compete. I might be reading too much into it, but I think that Ryan Grigson is implying here that there are more moves to be made and that Costa was brought in as competition, or in other words, depth.
At the same time, he could have been brought in as insurance in case the Colts don't get another center, but I don't think the Colts are (or should be) too comfortable entering camp with Costa and Holmes. I fully expect the Colts to add someone else, and it better be through free agency. Grigson has stated before how he doesn't like to play rookie offensive linemen and he doesn't need to this year, but if he addresses the center position in the draft that either means playing a rookie or playing someone that the Colts aren't entirely comfortable with. Signing a free agent makes a lot of sense because the Colts have cap room, have a big need at center that they absolutely need to fill well, and would get an experienced veteran who can step in and start. I don't expect the Colts to get Alex Mack, but another free agent center could very well be in their sights. Or at least, it should be.