For a decade-plus, Colts fans got to sit on our hands while seemingly every other team made huge splashes in Free Agency, getting "better" by signing guys to big-time deals they earned while playing for another team. Most of the time it was hard to stomach, until the Colts were still playing late into January and the Free Agency "winners" had been playing golf for nearly a month.
It made days like today seem very anti-climactic.
Then came the first couple Free Agency days with the new Colts regime, and we saw them spend and spend and spend, four and five year deals, on players that fit what they were trying to build (especially defensively), but were pretty risky in terms of them living up to their new salaries. There's an inherent risk in signing players you've never seen in your building working to big money contracts, but coming off of years without making any waves, I think the new staff was given a little bit of leeway and we all took a "wait and see" approach to the signings.
After three years, and a couple over-achieving seasons with a host of holes still to be filled, the pressure was on during this offseason to build a roster to win a Super Bowl in the next two seasons. Why two seasons? That's when Andrew Luck is due to become the richest man in the NFL, so there will be significantly less money for the rest of the roster. It was my hope that the Colts would structure most of their free agent signings into that window of time, making it very easy to re-work the roster after 2016. See, I said so on Twitter last week:
The Colts have a two-year window to win a title with Luck cheap. I'm guessing any signings will be front-loaded in first 2 years.— Matt Grecco (@mgrex03) March 5, 2015
What have we seen so far in the first six hours of free agency? Trent Cole for two years. Frank Gore for three years (with an easy out after two). Kendall Langford on a short-term deal (no details as of yet). And hopefully by tomorrow, the Colts will be announcing Andre Johnson on a two to three year deal. It's like Ryan Grigson read my mind before he decided on his targets and negotiated deals.
Some may be skeptical of the dollar amounts paid to these guys, and buying on the first day of free agency means you're going to pay more for those guys. If any of you have participated in an auction Fantasy Football draft, you've seen this played out pretty much every time you draft. People overspend early, for any number of reasons, while players that slip through and don't get nominated until late can be had for pennies on the dollar. You can always find a good deal there (as long as you have some cash left), but you have to be lucky and hope everyone else ignores him. I applaud Grigson for having a plan (that makes sense), sticking to it, and getting guys with limited risk that could turn this team into a Super Bowl winner immediately, even if he paid a few extra dollars.
I said earlier today that I wasn't a big fan of signing an aging RB (and I still have my reservations), but if Gore is the avenue to ensure Andre Johnson signs in Indianapolis, I can live with signing Gore. The key to winning in the NFL is by passing and defending the pass, so it's clear how Johnson fits in. Where can Gore help? Pass blocking is a great start. Pro Football Focus had him ranked #5 in RB pass blocking after the 2013 season, and he's never been shy about getting his nose dirty to keep his Quarterback upright. He also used to catch the ball out of the backfield a lot more than he has the last four years, averaging over 50 catches per season from '07-'10, so he can be a weapon there as well. I'm reserving full judgement until Johnson is signed, which can't come soon enough. Signing a pass rusher (Cole), getting DL depth (Langford), and re-signing Mike Adams on the back-half also fit the core strategy of winning games.
We've barely scratched the surface of Free Agency, and still have the draft upcoming, but to me, we've already seen Grigson learn from some of his mistakes in past years, and has the Colts set-up for the ultimate goal: Win the Super Bowl before Luck gets a new contract. Even if these are all the right players, they live up to their contracts, and the Colts don't win the Super Bowl, we shouldn't look back on today as a "bad" day if the ultimate goal isn't reached. It takes good players, as well as some good luck, to win a Super Bowl. Today I think the Colts made the amount of luck needed go down, but it's by no means zero. There are plenty of other good teams out there (like the one south of Boston that has destroyed the Colts four straight times now), so the Colts will have to prove it on the field.
And if this plan doesn't work out? These guys go away, Luck signs his big deal, and a new strategy is formed, being a little more picky with their money, but still in the window to win the Super Bowl, mainly because #12 will be on the field. I couldn't agree with this more:
@Schultz1260 Manning's "window" basically lasted from 1999 to 2010. Is Luck healthy? Window's open.— Nate Dunlevy (@NateDunlevy) March 10, 2015