The Indianapolis Colts have been among the biggest movers in the first few days of free agency, adding pass rusher Trent Cole, defensive lineman Kendall Langford, running back Frank Gore, and wide receiver Andre Johnson, in addition to the signing of offensive lineman Todd Herremans a few days before free agency officially began.
One common theme that many have pointed out from those signings is this: their age. Cole is 32, Gore is 31, Johnson is 33, and Herremans is 32 - along with Langford, who is 29. Heck, even their biggest re-signing was Mike Adams, who is a 33-year old safety. And this has led to a lot of ridicule.
The Denver Post's Mike Klis called them the "Indy Colts - Andrew Luck and the Over The Hill Gang." CBS Sports' Pete Prisco had this to say:
Getting older is never something you want to do as a team. Yet we had the Colts signing Frank Gore, who turns 32 in May, to a contract and they are in pursuit of receiver Andre Johnson. The Colts got rid of Reggie Wayne because he couldn't run and Johnson has slowed down in a big way as well. Why not get younger players to grow with Andrew Luck? It wasn't the Colts offense that was the problem last season. It was the defense. I know Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton want to run the ball more, and Gore is a tough inside runner, but the move to sign Gore isn't one that I would have made.
It seems that most of the comments have been levied against the offense, so let's just take a moment to consider the offensive side of the football, shall we? Clearly, Andrew Luck is the team's best player - and he's just 25 years old. The second best player on the offense is T.Y. Hilton, who also is just 25 years old. And a convincing argument could be made that their third best player on offense is Anthony Castonzo, who is 26 years old. I don't think that sounds anything like an old team, as the Colts are one who's offensive core is young players. Furthermore, the average age of the eleven projected starters for Indy next season is 27.4 years old. Last year's most common eleven starters averaged 25.9 years of age, and the eleven starters in the AFC Championship game were an average of 26.7 years old. So yes, the Colts did get older - but not that much older, and honestly, it would have been hard to get much younger.
Here are the moves the Colts made on the offensive side of the football. They upgraded their right guard position from Hugh Thornton (23 years old) to Todd Herremans (32 years old), so they got significantly older there. But Thornton was awful last year and the Colts have been searching for a while for an answer there, and Herremans has been a solid player for a while. The Colts added Frank Gore (31 years old) to replace Trent Richardson (24 years old), and I don't even think I need to state that it was a good move and a massive upgrade. Finally, they replaced Reggie Wayne (36 years old) with Andre Johnson (33 years old) - actually getting younger at the number two wide receiver spot.
So yes, the Colts did get older on the offensive side of the football, but that doesn't make them an old offense. They're still pretty young. Perhaps an even bigger point to consider, however, is that this is really the only thing the Colts could have done this offseason.
Free agency does not exist in a bubble. As much as you might like to, you just can't ignore the salary cap - including the salary cap in future years. This is something that most people don't think about, and that's why many people were advocating for the Colts to go after Ndamukong Suh. But one thing that general manager Ryan Grigson and cap specialist Mike Bluem have done very well - in fact, perhaps what they've done best in their three years together in Indy - is not cripple the team by any contract. You can point to some questionable personnel decisions by Grigson, but the contracts have been great and haven't killed the team. LaRon Landry? That was an awful move and the Colts paid him too much money - but they got out of it after just two years and saved money this offseason by doing so. Ricky Jean Francois? A solid player, but overpaid - the Colts saved money by cutting him after two years as well. The contracts of Donald Thomas, Erik Walden, Greg Toler, Gosder Cherilus, and most others are structured this way as well - the Colts can get out of them before they have to start giving their own guys big paydays.
You see, the Colts are really in a unique position that very few, if any, teams have been in during the free agency era. They have a star, elite quarterback who was drafted first overall in the 2012 draft and who is among the best quarterbacks in the league who has a cap hit just north of $7 million this year. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the game getting paid like the 20th best quarterback in the game. That's a steal. Or T.Y. Hilton, a Pro Bowl receiver a year ago, will have a cap hit of just over $1.67 million. Anthony Castonzo, the team's left tackle, will be paid like the 14th best left tackle in football. And the team's terrific tight end duo of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will have a cap hit of just $3,417,441 - which combined is still less than what the cap hit of 20 other tight ends in the NFL is currently scheduled to be next season. With the rookie wage scale, the Colts have plenty of money to spend now, but not in the future.
After this season, the contracts of Hilton, Castonzo, Fleener, Allen, and Luck are up - though the team has a fifth-year option for the quarterback. So the Colts have this window currently which is very unique and which must be acknowledged as we analyze their free agent moves. They currently are getting some great production for very cheap thanks to the rookie wage scale, but that won't remain forever and so they have to be aware of that. But at the same time, the Colts have clear Super Bowl hopes and a lot of salary cap room to spend.
So the Colts did exactly the right thing - they signed good players to very team-friendly contracts. And by that I mean that the Colts can get out of these deals within a year or two if need be, creating room to re-sign their own players - because, as we know, that's the better way to build a team in the long run anyways. The Colts acknowledged this window by signing players to deals that should be manageable and that clearly have the future in mind, and in exchange they get a number of veteran players hungry for a ring who can still very much produce. Added with a young core, the hope is that these players can deliver the Colts another Lombardi trophy before the paydays for Luck and others comes up, but even if that doesn't happen, there's no doubt that the Colts are doing things the right way this offseason.