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Why Re-Signing Vontae Davis was a Must for the Colts

The Colts re-signed cornerback Vontae Davis to a 4-year, $39 million deal with $20 million guaranteed, even when it seemed unlikely to happen. There is mixed reaction to the contract, but here's why it was a must for the Colts to re-sign him.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the past few weeks, the big talk surrounding the Indianapolis Colts was about whether the Colts would re-sign cornerback Vontae Davis, and much more so about whether they should.  There were opinions from all angles, as fans had a variety of opinions.  It was a lose-lose for Ryan Grigson, as if he paid Davis some people would be upset, and if he let Davis walk then some other people would be upset.  I think that there would have been much more people upset with the hole in the secondary next year than with the money paid to Davis, but either way, Grigson got about as much of a "win" as possible in the situation.

The Colts re-signed Davis to a 4-year, $39 million deal with $20 million guaranteed.  That's a lot of money to spend on one player, especially one who fans are so split on.  The deal is very, very similar to the one that the Packers gave to Sam Shields, which makes sense.  All along I had said if the Colts paid Davis anywhere below $10 million a year I would be happy, and his deal averages out to $9.75 million a year.  At the moment, Davis is tied for the third highest paid cornerback in 2014 in terms of average salary, per spotrac - but remember, there's a lot more yet to happen, including with Darrelle Revis, the highest paid corner.  We've spent weeks debating whether or not Davis is worth the contract, but I firmly believe that it was a must for the Colts to re-sign him.  Here's why:

He's a Great Fit for the Colts System

There has been a lot said about Vontae Davis recently.  Some of it has been right, but most of it has been wrong.  To try and determine which is which, I went back and looked at the film.  What I found are that two of the most common arguments used against Davis aren't as strong as they seem.  I've heard numerous people use these three statements to argue that Davis wasn't worth re-signing: "he gets burned too much," "he's too inconsistent," and "the defense still stunk even with him!"  Are those three statements true?  One is false, the other one isn't as true as you might have been led to believe, and the third is true but not because of Davis.

  • Argument 1: "Vontae Davis gets burned too much" - This argument holds no weight.  Instead, let me explain for a bit why there is a perception of this out there.  The Colts like to run a press man coverage, single high safety look at times.  That means that the corner on the outside is playing press man coverage, while there is only one safety deep, as the other one is doing something else, like blitzing or playing in coverage on a receiver.  This is illustrated below: Davis is on the far side of the field circled in yellow, while one of the safeties (in this case Antoine Bethea) is shown in a blue circle blitzing.  The other safety (in this case LaRon Landry) plays back deep as the only safety, as shown in the red circle. Screen_shot_2014-03-10_at_12

This defense means that the cornerback, Davis, will not have help over the top should he get beat, and that can lead to more big plays in the passing game.  In other words, because of the Colts man coverage that they like to run, it makes mistakes (like getting burned) much more costly.  So is it really that Vontae Davis gets burned way too much or just that, when he does, we notice more often?  The answer to both of those questions is yes.  Davis does get burned more often that I would like, but I don't consider it to be way too much and I think it's nothing that should prevent a deal, and I also agree that the mistakes are shown more because of the way the Colts play.  I'm not saying it's the wrong way to play defense, just that it can allow offenses to capitalize more on mistakes by defensive players.

  • Argument 2: "Vontae Davis is too inconsistent" - This is true, but not as much as you might think.  Throughout the season, I thought that one of the biggest problems with Vontae Davis is that you didn't know which player was going to show up each week.  Was it going to be the legitimate, shut-down, elite corner Davis that we saw against the Broncos, or the liability Davis that we saw just two weeks later against the Texans?  This was a big question for me.  Looking back at the film, however, it was clear that a few things happened: first, much of Davis' struggles came without Greg Toler playing and much of his struggles came shortly after the corner was injured, too.  To me, it looked like the Colts didn't put Davis in the best situations as they were still adjusting to playing without Toler.  This is a cheap excuse, I know, but it's a small thing to note.  More significantly, however, the consistency issue had more to do with Davis' ball skills than it did with his coverage.  In other words, it seemed like Davis was pretty consistent in coverage.  When the ball was in the air, however, it wasn't always the same.  It might just have been me, but I think that Davis' coverage wasn't a big issue.  I also don't think his consistency issues were as big of a deal as many fans were making it out to be, but he certainly has to improve on it to prove to be worth $9.75 million a year, that's for sure.
  • Argument 3: "the Colts defense still stunk even with Vontae Davis" - While I do acknowledge that the Colts defense made improvements in 2013, there still isn't much denying that they weren't good as a unit.  But using that to justify how Vontae Davis isn't worth re-signing is just plain ignorant.  I get the intent of the statement, which is to say that Davis wasn't a big difference maker, but a unit doesn't determine how good a player is, or vice versa.  Are you going to say that Jerrell Freeman isn't that good because the defense wasn't? Or what about Robert Mathis?  If you don't make the argument for every player, why make it for Davis - especially a cornerback?  One of the best examples I can make of this is from last season, when the Colts offensive line unit stunk.  Even then, Anthony Castonzo had a great year but was lumped into the unit, which was bad.  That doesn't mean Castonzo was bad, just that he was on a bad unit.  The same goes for the defense and the secondary - you can't judge a player based on the unit.  You just can't.  End of discussion.
One of the biggest reasons why I think that Vontae Davis was a player the Colts had to re-sign was because he is a great fit in the system.  His strength is in man coverage, and finding a young corner who plays well in man coverage is something that isn't easy to do.  Davis is a good man coverage player and he fits what the Colts are trying to do on defense.

What Exactly was the Replacement Plan?

Another major reason why the Colts needed to re-sign Vontae Davis was because, well, they didn't have a great replacement plan in place.  Davis was their first priority, and if they didn't get him, then what exactly were they going to do?  It's not like there weren't a lot of good cornerbacks available.  Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib, and maybe even Darrelle Revis highlight just a few names of a group of free agents that have a lot of talent.  The thing is, though, that many of those players would have drawn similar deals to Davis, or slightly less.  But for the Colts, if you have a guy who has been with you for two years, is a good fit for your system, is only 25 years old, and can be had for less than $10 million a year, I think you have to take it.  Otherwise, you're paying for a corner who you're not as familiar with and who quite possibly isn't as good of a fit for your system.  Or, if you don't spend money for a player, then you leave a big hole at the cornerback position, and that would be much worse than overpaying for Davis.  If they drafted a cornerback to start, either that means that Greg Toler would be their number one corner (how about that, Colts fans?) and a rookie at the other spot, or vice versa, and I don't feel confident in either of those situations.  Especially with the Colts lacking a first round pick and with the league being a passing game today, having a number one cornerback is big in today's league, and to get one you need to pay.  I'd much rather pay for Davis than leave a hole in the secondary.  The last thing the Colts need to do right now is create more holes for their team.

The Colts had the Cap Room to do it!

This one is simple and obvious: the Colts had the money to re-sign Vontae Davis.  They didn't have to make any moves to free up money and they didn't have to get creative with a way to re-sign Davis.  This is a luxury that they won't have for much longer, so they need to take advantage of it now.  They could afford to pay Davis $9.75 million a year - their cap room allowed them to do it while at the same time signing other players too!

Bottom Line: Is Vontae Davis worth $9.75 million per year?

What it really comes down to is this: is Vontae Davis worth the $9.75 million per year that the Colts will be paying him now?  You won't find a consensus on this, even on this site.  I think he is, but Brad Wells does not.  And that's perfectly fine, and it shows that perhaps the move was a bit of a reach on the money side.  All along I said that if it was under $10 million per year, I would be happy.  I think that Davis is a good fit for what the Colts are trying to do, I think that he is the best option they would have had moving forward, and the Colts had the cap room to do it.  I think that Vontae Davis - only 25 years old - was worth giving the contract to.  He is very talented, but he does need to work on his consistency issues and he needs to live up to his talent.  I think that Davis will prove to be worth the contract (at least to most people) but he will have to prove it on the field starting this fall.  Now, he has been paid.  The pressure is on him to live up to it.  I think he can, and either way I absolutely think the Colts had to re-sign him and I think it is a good move that they did.