Phil Wilson of the Indianapolis Star posted an article similar to one I had planned to tack up on the blog today. So, instead of reinventing the wheel, so to speak, I'll just piggy-back on the overall theme of Wilson's article: That signing free agents isn't the mortal sin that some fans thought it would be.
In the first week of the new NFL league year, when a rare period of free agency allowed teams to flip the field and sign free agents that normally do not hit an open market, the Colts stood still. While the Eagles, Patriots, and Texans all improved their rosters with free agents and trades, the Colts remained stagnant and, as a result, became less relevent in the championship discussion.
As is often the case, when the Colts are making a pretty obvious mistake, yours truly makes a big, silly stink about it.
Now, there were some (ahem, Nate Dunlevy) who chose to side with 'the party line,' so to speak, and 'debunk the myths' of free agency. What then followed was people senselessly screaming, 'WE DON'T WANT TO BE LIKE THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS! NO FREE AGENTS! THEY ARE TEH SATAN!'
Rather than have an intelligent, rational discussion of how signing a few free agents could plug some pretty seriously roster holes, we're instead trying to calm down people who are assuming that any interest in free agency is akin to the numerous free agent blunders of the Daniel Snyder-owned Washington Redskins.
Thankfully, the Colts opted to test the market, and they signed five very good free agents that are low risk, high reward. It's no coincidence that four of those five free agents were defensive players, likely a move to bolster a unit that played like crap last season.
Tommie Harris, Tyler Brayton, Ernie Sims, and Jamaal Anderson were all signed to bolster a Colts defensive line that has repeatedly been pushed and shoved off the line of scrimmage the last two years. Kerry Collins was added as insurance at the back-up QB position as well. If you have read the 2011 version of Football Outsiders almanac, there is a section which discusses how this shift in philosophy (the signing of free agents) could help the team remain competitive after four-plus years of draft futility.
It's worth noting that, during preseason, all four of these free agents have outplayed 'homegrown' talents Fili Moala, Jerry Hughes, and Eric Foster. And while pride and ego will likely motivate Bill Polian and his sons to retain their own drafted players over several 2011 free agents who are, quite simply, better, the reality is players like Anderson and Harris should made the 53-man roster because they've earned it while some 'homegrown' talents haven't.
I mean, to re-use an over-used example, 2010 first rounder Jerry Hughes has done nothing to warrant a roster spot in preseason while Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton (and John Chick, another free agent, but from 2010) have.
Now, I'm not using this article to simply pile it on Jerry Hughes, but, fair or not, he is the poster boy for the 'failure' of the Polian System the last few years. This system only works if you hit on your first day picks. When you don't, the team spirals downward, and the only way to build it back up quickly is via free agents.
Another thing worth noting is that Harris, Anderson, and Sims are all first round picks of other teams. These players might not have worked out well on those other teams, but they are first round talent. Anytime a team can infuse first round talent into their roster, the team should take advantage.
For those of you out there who think that I 'hate' Bill Polian and his system, truth is I think building through the draft is the best way to improve a football team. However, when the front office consistently misses on early picks over a four year period, the option to 'build from within' goes out the window because there isn't enough talent within to build with. And with the Colts QB being 35-years-old and coming off his second neck surgery in two years, the time to 'build from within' has passed the Colts by.
It's all about winning now.
If they don't, the Peyton Manning tenure in Indianapolis will be widely regarded as a disappointment. Yes, it is amazing that the franchise has won 10-or-more games for nine straight years. However, the fact that the club has only one Super Bowl will show this franchise as an underachiever. The other organization that had a similar stretch of consistent winning was the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s. However, no one remembers or really even cares that they won so many regular season games.
They only care about the five trophies the 49ers got from 1981-1994.
The same judgment will apply to the Colts. Regular season wins mean nothing. Division titles mean nothing. Super Bowl appearances mean nothing. It is all about winning a championship. That the expectations have gotten to this level is a tribute to Jim Irsay, Peyton Manning, and Bill Polian. But, by setting these expectations, the challenge now is to deliver. If they do not, they will be viewed as underachievers, fair or not.
Thus, as fans, we need to get over the irrational 'fear' of free agency. Talent wins, and the Colts need more of it in order to bring home another Lombardi Trophy. As we saw Friday night, the additions along the d-line produced tangible results. We saw a pass rush sack Aaron Rodgers three times, and we saw a run defense stuff a pretty potent Packers rushing game for a total of 45 yards.
So, yeah, more free agents please. I kind of like watching our d-line actually play well, for a change.