The Indianapolis Colts have signed ten players in free agency so far, marking the busiest they’ve ever been in free agency.
The team largely focused on signing free agents to smaller contracts, bringing in younger guys for competition purposes. That fit with what Chris Ballard is wanting to do in Indianapolis, and it fit with his approach to free agency.
“I guess after a couple of weeks on the job I knew we were older on defense and we weren’t going to be able to fix everything in the draft and we wanted to get some young, veteran talent to up the competition level,” Ballard said this week, according to Colts.com’s Kevin Bowen. “I think for the most part these were all young players that still have upside on their career, which is what we are looking for, the ascending arrow. Most of them are on short-term deals so they still have something to prove and it ups the competition level on defense, which we wanted to do. Then when we go to the draft, no matter what side of the ball we are on and end up taking a player, it’s going to continue to up the competition level. I’ve repeatedly said this and I just don’t know any other way, everywhere I’ve been we try to get the best 90 men we can get. Let’s get the best 90-man roster. There’s no such thing as a camp body. No. If they are in camp, we think they have something to make our team.”
There are a few things worth pointing out, many of which we’ve already noted but that Ballard mentioned.
First of all, Ballard said “we wanted to get some young, veteran talent” on defense. Only two of the ten free agents Ballard has signed will be 30 years old or older when next season starts (Margus Hunt and Al Woods), and only four defenders will be in total (Darius Butler, Kendall Langford, Hunt, and Woods). Ballard realized that the Colts needed to get younger on defense, and that’s been a focus in free agency.
Secondly, Ballard emphasized that they signed guys who “still have upside on their career, which is what we are looking for, the ascending arrow.” Often times in free agency the players that are signed wind up being has-beens, guys who once produced in the NFL but who are past their primes. The guys the Colts signed, however, are younger guys who may have received playing time and opportunities but who still have room to grow and develop. This should help the Colts in the sense that perhaps one or two of these guys will really step up and develop and turn into a bargain.
Thirdly, Ballard mentioned that, “most of them are on short-term deals so they still have something to prove and it ups the competition level on defense.” In fact, the Colts have yet to give out a single dollar in guaranteed money past this year in their free agent signings, meaning that they can get out of these contracts (or signed one-year deals in the first place) if guys don’t produce, so that should help the competition level too.
And fourth, Ballard mentioned again that they want as competitive of a 90-man roster that they can get, and that can be evidenced in their free agent moves. Not all of the guys that were brought in were brought in to be starters, but some - such as Brandon Williams or Margus Hunt - were brought in to compete. The Colts are identifying players who can help add to the competition level on the roster, regardless of what role they wind up in.
In the end, Ballard realizes that this approach requires patience.
“You’ve got to be able to go home every night and lay your head on the bed knowing that we are going to find a player, eventually,” he said. “You don’t want to make unsound decisions based on pressure from the outside of the building or even internal pressure that we have to have a guy. I’ll give our coaching staff a lot of credit, they’ve been very patient with us on the scouting end that they understood what our vision was and got on the same page where we all had the same vision.”
The headlines of free agency are dominated by the big-name and big-money signings, and the Colts haven’t really participated in that this year. That can lead to the perception that the Colts aren’t doing much, but they’ve actually been making a ton of moves. Their GM is simply looking for certain types of players in free agency and is willing to be patient and stick to that vision.
“This is not the only time to acquire players,” Ballard said. “You’ve got to have some discipline and you’ve got to put a value with your club of what that value is. If it works out, great. Then if it doesn’t work out, we’ve got time and we can continue to work.”