It’s finally here, Colts fans — the NFL’s 2018 free agency period. “Legal tampering” begins Monday at noon ET and runs through Wednesday at 3:59:59 PM ET.
According to the NFL Media website, “During the period beginning at 12 noon, New York time, on March 12th and ending at 3:59:59 p.m., New York time, on March 14th, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2017 player contracts.”
As the note states, new players and their agents cannot begin putting ink to paper until 4:00 PM ET on Wednesday, but you hear leaks about done deals and agreed-upon contracts almost the entire legal tampering period.
With all of that said, I’ve seen a lot of noise about the Colts’ inactivity the last couple of weeks. The NFL has been uncharacteristically flush with trades recently, and the Colts haven’t been apart of it. It’s got some fans worried, but please remember that this team is in a complete rebuild. There are certain ways to do that, and that means being picky about who you add to the roster and how you do it.
Here are some thing to remember over the next several weeks:
Just Because the Colts Have a Ton of Cap Space Doesn’t Mean They Should Throw It Around Irresponsibly
The Colts have about $72 million in cap space, which is the third most in the league according to Over the Cap. However, just because they have that much money doesn’t mean they should spend it on just anyone. Overall, most deals shouldn’t be for more than two or three years or have much dead money past the first couple of years.
There are some teams that have the liberty to throw a ton of money at a quarterback like Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, A.J. McCarron, etc. However, the Colts have the luxury to fill needs in free agency that don’t include a quarterback. We’ll get into specifics with what the Colts need to focus on attaining and avoiding in free agency here in a bit.
Also, remember that about $9.8 million of the Colts’ cap is allocated just to their upcoming draft class, which doesn’t include undrafted free agents.
Forget the Old Guys
Fans get enamored with big veteran names out on the open market because they’ve seen them perform well before and think that they could help their team. Guys like DeMarco Murray, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Wallace, Eric Decker, Martellus Bennett and Richard Sherman (before he signed with the 49ers) fit the bill currently. However, you know why teams are letting these guys walk? It’s because they’re not worth their current price and the teams have much younger, better options.
Only on the rarest occasions can you expect Colts general manager Chris Ballard to go after an older player. Overall, he wants young, ascending players. That’s what you add to your roster in a rebuild, not aging players. Older players are for teams who need just a couple more pieces until they can be playoff contenders. Younger players are for the long haul.
If a player is older than about 27-28, the Colts probably won’t be pursuing them. However, there are instances where a guy’s playing age may be less than their actual age. For example, free agent running back Dion Lewis is 27 years old, which means he should be declining in the next couple of years. However, he only has 553 touches in his career — that includes total carries, receptions and kickoff returns, both in the regular season and the playoffs. That’s a young 27.
Locker Room Character Matters
If a guy has been known to cause friction in the locker room with previous teams, the Colts probably aren’t going for them. They’re especially not going to give them big money. And don’t mistake being brash on the field for being a “locker room cancer”. That’s not always the case. When Ballard was hired last year, he had a couple great quotes about building the locker room:
“The work, the commitment and the type of person that you brought into the building and into the locker room, that’s key. I know we all want instant coffee right now, but that’s not reality. Reality is that it takes time to build a team and time to build a locker room. Those guys have got to grow together and come together. I don’t know any championship team who didn’t have a great locker room and grow together. It’s hard to just throw people into the locker room and expect a winner. It just doesn’t work that way.”
“What I am going to say though is when we do dip into free agency and sign other players we have to be right on the player we sign... You pay a guy a lot of money and you plug him into the locker room. The locker room is watching, they are watching so to me in my mind that guy has to be a worker, he has to be a good teammate, he has to earn it, he has to earn that money and earn that right. And he has to be a fit, he has to be a fit for what you are doing offensively and defensively. That’s where my fear of free agency comes in. Is he a good fit? Is he the type of person that is going to come in and the other players are not going to resent him because he is making an amount of money? If he is a worker and a good teammate and he is going to help us win then they will buy in and he will be a good player for us.”
Locker room fit is also a reason why the Colts hired Brian Decker last year.
In Regards to Trades, Don’t Count on Ballard Losing Draft Picks
Trades are flying around recently, and they often involve draft picks. Understand that draft picks are like gold to Ballard, so if a trade is happening with the Colts, it’s probably going to involve sending a player. It doesn’t mean picks won’t sometimes be involved, but what he acquires will be equal to what he lost. Remember that the Colts traded away Dwayne Allen and Phillip Dorsett last year.
I know that people wanted Marcus Peters (traded to Rams) and Jarvis Landry (traded to Browns), but they were acquired for draft picks. The Browns also seemingly had a hundred draft picks coming into this spring, so there’s that. Some teams have more flexibility than others.
There Are Reasons That These Guys Are Hitting Free Agency
Elite, top-level players almost never hit free agency. So, when there’s a player out there that you want, ask yourself why they are available on the open market. It could be that their contract was too big, they’re getting too old, they’re injury-prone, or maybe they just didn’t fit the team’s scheme.
It doesn’t make them a bad player, but there’s a very good chance that it makes them just a cog in their team’s machine and not the savior that you may think.
The Draft is King
There are two huge parts to acquiring players in the NFL offseason: free agency and the draft. Often times, teams try to fill their needs in free agency so that they feel they can draft the best overall players in the draft. If your team didn’t do as much as you hoped they would in free agency, remember that the draft is right around the corner, and the draft will always be king when it comes to acquiring young talent and building the team for the future. Also remember that the draft is seven rounds and not just one. If your team doesn’t draft who you wanted in Round 1, it’s not over.