Today was a pretty busy day for the Indianapolis Colts, as they made a pretty significant free agent signing, released a pretty significant player, and tendered a few other restricted and exclusive rights free agents. Let's take a brief look at the moves and an update on what the Colts will do moving forward.
The Colts signed former Cleveland Browns inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a 4-year, $22 million deal with $11 million guaranteed. The deal is front loaded, like many of Ryan Grigson's free agent signings, which makes the deal better than initially thought. The Colts can get out of it in time to re-sign Andrew Luck, and in the meantime they get a player who has notched over 100 tackles in six of his eight seasons, including a 143 tackle season in 2013 in which he was out for only one defensive snap in the entire season. Just one. He will start at inside linebacker for the Colts and is an upgrade over Pat Angerer. There are many questions and concerns about how much the Colts paid him, which certainly was more than expected, although reports indicate that he got better offers from other teams but choose to come to the Colts based largely due to the fact that they have Andrew Luck at quarterback and Chuck Pagano as head coach. Jackson said in his conference call with the Indianapolis media today that he sat down with Chuck Pagano for dinner this past week and that it was clear right away that he was a good guy. And, based on what he said in his conference call, it doesn't seem like Rob Chudzinski had as big of a role in getting him to come to Indy as some might think. In fact, when asked if Chudzinski made a sales pitch to him, he replied, "no, not at all." Jackson, the 30-year old former Brown, will start inside at linebacker for the Colts alongside Jerrell Freeman. According to his agent today, Jackson actually asked the Browns to be released and is seeking a more stable organization - he had seven defensive coordinators in eight years with the Browns and twelve different starting quarterbacks in that time span as well. It's clear, then, why the Colts appealed to him - they're about as stable of an organization as you could get.
The move that everyone was waiting for the Colts to make finally happened: they released veteran center Samson Satele today. He started most of the past two seasons for the Colts since being signed by Ryan Grigson in his first offseason as Colts general manager. At the time, I actually liked the move and thought it was a good one. Let's make one thing clear - the real issue wasn't signing Satele, it was waiting so long to admit it was a mistake. General managers miss all the time on moves, but when they start being really bad is when GMs are unwilling to admit it was a mistake and move on from the player. This happened just recently with former Colts executive and current San Diego Chargers GM Tom Telesco. He made a signing in his first offseason as general manager (last year) and it did't work out. This offseason, he released him and was praised for his ability to admit his mistake and move on towards correcting it. Every general manager is going to make mistakes - but how long does it take them to admit it and try to correct it? For Grigson, it was probably too long for Satele, but now is not really the time to complain about it but rather praise him for making the obvious move that some (including myself) were hesitant as to whether they'd really make it or not. The move saves the Colts roughly $4 million in cap room this year, as Satele will count only roughly $1 million in dead money - in other words, it's not only a great move from the football side of things but it helps the Colts out significantly in terms of the salary cap. It also leaves the Colts with only Khaled Holmes at center, essentially guaranteeing that they will add another center in either free agency or the draft - most likely free agency, because Ryan Grigson has publicly stated how he doesn't like playing rookie offensive linemen right away. And for all of you "well Holmes can start!" people, let me just say that if he couldn't manage to get into the starting lineup last year, I'm very hesitant to think that he can do so this year and I think there must be some concerns there. He can work through them, sure, but I'm in no way counting on him just stepping in and starting next season. I think the Colts have a plan in place to go after a free agent center, but that's just me. I don't think they'd have made this move yet if they didn't have a plan.
The Colts extended tenders to restricted free agent offensive lineman Joe Reitz and cornerback Josh Gordy and also extended a tender to exclusive rights free agent Cam Johnson. In almost every case involving players of their caliber, this means that the players remain with their current team that is offering the tenders. According to Tom Pelissero, the tenders are as follows: Joe Reitz - $1.431 million; Josh Gordy - $1.431 million; Cam Johnson - $495K (Johnson has no say in the matter other than to accept the deal or not play football). There is no surprise whatsoever that the Colts tendered these three players, as Reitz is a very solid depth offensive lineman (if he can stay healthy) and Gordy provides solid depth at cornerback. And, for being a solid depth guy and an ERFA, it makes sense for the Colts to offer Johnson, too. The only other players for the Colts that are in either category are linebackers Justin Hickman and Scott Lutrus, both of whom are ERFAs and neither of them were offered a tender yet. The fact that Lutrus wasn't offered is no surprise, but the fact that Hickman wasn't is a bit of a surprise because he played really well last preseason before suffering a season-ending injury. The Colts must feel set at inside linebacker and they might bring him back a little later if they want to and if he's still available.
Where will the Colts go from here?
Because of the nature of the day the Colts had (signing a significant free agent and releasing a player everyone was waiting to release), I got numerous responses on twitter and many of them were questions. I answered them briefly on twitter but wanted to also include them here - these are the most frequently asked questions I received today about where the Colts might head from here:
Q: With signing D'Qwell Jackson to a 4-year, $22 million deal ($11 million guaranteed), will the Colts have enough money to go after other free agents or re-sign their own?
A: Yes, of course they will. I'm going to be working with very rough numbers here, so don't take them as gospel but know that they're in the ballpark - the Colts had approximately $41 million in cap room entering today. They'll be paying Jackson around $5.5 million in 2013 (estimated), so the number goes down to around $35.5 million (or just over), but then with releasing Satele they gained an additional $4 million, or around there, bringing the number to roughly $39.5 million in cap room available. Let's just subtract the deals given to the RFAs and ERFAs, and that total is just over $3 million, bringing the cap room available to - again, very, very rough number - around $36 million, or just over, in cap room available for 2013. That's certainly enough to go after free agents or re-sign their own, and in fact that number still ranks among the best in the league. The Colts won't really be limited by the salary cap any even after the signing of Jackson, but they do need to be careful or else they could use the money very quickly. They need to be smart and prudent about the money that they have remaining. They won't be limited by the salary cap even after this move, but they still will need to be smart about it. [Note: I'm working with rough contract numbers for these players and am not sure what the cap hit will be for each of them. I'm no cap expert, so again, don't take them as gospel but rather use them to get an idea of where the Colts are, roughly.]
Q: With the Colts releasing Samson Satele, it seems obvious that they will go after a center - will it be Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, who is due to become a free agent next Tuesday?
A: I'm a big fan of Alex Mack, as are many Colts fans now, but I would be very surprised if the Colts got in the running for the Browns center. The Browns placed a transition tag on him this week, which means that the Browns will have the right to match any offer another team makes for him. And honestly, why wouldn't the Browns match an offer unless it was incredibly unreasonable? I expect any reasonable offer to be matched by the Browns, which leaves a team wanting Mack's services - like the Colts - to have to throw an incredibly high deal at Mack so that the Browns won't match it. I think Mack is one of the best centers in the league and I think it's an important position that the Colts clearly need help at, but I don't think it would be the wisest use of their money for the Colts to actually sign Mack and I don't expect it to happen. Instead, I would expect the Colts to go after one of the other upcoming free agent centers, such as the Saints' Brian de la Puente, the Packers' Evan Dietrich-Smith, or the 49ers' Jonathan Goodwin.
Q: Are the Colts still planning to re-sign cornerback Vontae Davis after paying Jackson a lot of money?
A: Yes, they are. As I explained in my first answer, they have the money to do it. Earlier this week, the Dolphins gave cornerback Brent Grimes a 4-year, $32 million deal for an average of $8 million a year. That set the market for cornerbacks and I would fully expect Davis to get around the same deal, maybe slightly higher - but definitely in the ballpark. I know definitively that the Colts absolutely want to still re-sign Davis and I know that it is still a priority for them, and based on what I'm hearing I still expect the Colts to reach an agreement with him before free agency starts. They would love to get him agreed to a deal before Saturday, when teams can begin talking to other team's free agents in advance of free agency officially beginning Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. The Colts would love to get Davis under wraps before he can begin talking to other teams, but it would be a good negotiating tool for Davis to see what other teams are willing to offer him. I'm not sure when exactly a deal will come, but both the Colts and Davis seem to want it to happen and I would expect him to be signed before free agency begins. Again, nothing is certain until it's official, but as of right now I would be surprised if Davis reached the open market next Tuesday.