The Indianapolis Colts were one of the most involved teams as free agency began, signing a number of players at a number of positions of need.
They added running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Andre Johnson, offensive lineman Todd Herremans, defensive lineman Kendall Langford, inside linebacker Nate Irving, pass rusher Trent Cole, and re-signed offensive lineman Joe Reitz, cornerback Darius Butler, and safeties Mike Adams and Colt Anderson. The Colts were very involved in the free agency process, and while the team has yet to play a game yet in the 2015 season, something that is popular to do is hand out grades for the moves. We did that for the Colts a week ago, and yesterday ESPN released their free agency grades for all 32 teams (subscription required).
Those whose opinions were taken into consideration for the grading were ESPN analysts Mike Sando, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson, Field Yates, and Bill Polian (the Hall of Fame former Colts general manager from 1998-2011). And they gave the Colts a B-minus in free agency, the eighteenth-highest grade among NFL teams.
The Colts broke some well-established rules by adding multiple players who are nearing the ends of their careers, but each move made sense on some level.
"You are skeptical about what they are doing not for what they paid but just for the profile of the players," Riddick said. "Todd Herremans is one of my favorite guys and his leadership can have value there, but he has a significant injury history and is not the player he once was. Andre Johnson probably has one or two good years left. Gore would be my favorite back in free agency if not for his age. Cole is someone I love, but again, he is 32 years old."
Williamson liked the fact that every one of the older high-profile veterans signed is a high-effort player chasing his first championship. He liked Langford's addition and thought Johnson had much more left to give than Gore could offer at this point.
"They are in win-now mode and they did the contracts that way, so you cannot argue with it," Polian said. "Traditionally, older guys changing teams have one good year left. There is evidence of that. If that happens, they are in good shape."
First, let's just address this part: does anyone think that there were seventeen NFL teams that had a better offseason than the Colts - including the New England Patriots, who lost one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL? Or the Bengals? Or the Lions? No, the Colts didn't have the eighteenth-best offseason in the NFL - rather it was much higher. I'm not saying the Colts should've been number one on that list, but they improved more than some other teams, that's for sure. And if that's not the ultimate point of free agency, then I don't know what is.
As for the individual players, the ESPN guys are right - the Colts signed older players. Even head coach Chuck Pagano didn't try to deny this fact when he joked that the team would start holding Bingo nights. But let's look at it another way, shall we? Is Frank Gore an upgrade over Trent Richardson? Without a doubt. Is Andre Johnson an upgrade over Reggie Wayne? Yup, he is. Is Todd Herremans an upgrade over Hugh Thornton? Absolutely. Is Trent Cole an upgrade over Bjoern Werner? Totally. And then the signings of Kendall Langford and Nate Irving are both good moves that should help the defense as well, particularly against the run - so the run defense got better with both of those moves. The re-signing of Darius Butler was crucial, as was the re-signing of Mike Adams. Joe Reitz is back, too, which is an underrated move. Even if only a couple of these players turn out to have good seasons, the Colts will have gotten much better. This is a team with many needs entering free agency, and they managed to get an upgrade at several of the spots. I'd say that's pretty good, but maybe that's just me.
What I'm looking at is 2015, not beyond, and that's the same thing the Colts are looking at. Within a year or two, the Colts will be able to get out of most of these deals if they wish. So I think that Bill Polian actually had the best analysis of the Colts' moves of any of the analysts quoted when he said that, if history holds and these players give the Colts one good year, then the team is in good shape. That's the crucial point: the Colts didn't sign any of these players counting on them to be long-term fixtures but rather to help them win a Super Bowl title in 2015. And as Bill Polian so wisely noted, they did that pretty well.
I don't think the Colts need to get the best free agency grade possible. And I don't think that the Colts have to be ranked number one among all teams in free agency, because I certainly wouldn't put them there. But what the worldwide leader failed to realize in these grades is this: no two situations are the same. You can't just look at the age of a player and automatically say that it was bad. You have to look at the context and the situation. For example, last year the Raiders signed a number of older players and it was a bad move. But that's because they were counting so heavily on those guys and those players were expected to be key players. The Colts signed older players this year, but they were signed to complement the fixtures of the team (ahem, Andrew Luck) and hopefully provide the final boost needed to get to the Super Bowl.
The Colts improved and addressed a number of needs in free agency as they pursue the Lombardi Trophy this year. And I think that makes for a pretty good free agency period from the team.