I was also young and naive once, and thought that getting that big free-agent signing was going to push the Colts over the edge and give them what they needed to get to the Super Bowl, so I was considerably frustrated watching Chris Ballard wait at least a couple of weeks before making any sort of moves.
Besides re-signing linebacker E.J. Speed, and defensive linemen Tyquan Lewis and signing kicker Matt Gay (to a surprisingly big contract), the Colts have let star linebacker Bobby Okereke go and did not sign any of the first wave free agents. Despite usually ranking inside the top 10 in cap space, the Colts have turned away from splurging in free-agency, an approach that former general manager Ryan Grigson overutilized, and that is completely fine.
Sure, we all like the excitement of a guy like Javon Hargrave, Jessie Bates, Kenny Golladay, Carl Lawson, etc. signing for the team, as it is a supposedly proven player, a guy that can come in and contribute right away. I say supposedly because more often than not that is not exactly the case, and the team that signs them ends up regretting giving out all that guaranteed money in the first place. There is a logical rationale that “if these guys were really good, their teams would not have let them go”, and that makes a lot of sense to a degree, sometimes it works out perfectly for both parties involved, as a player is needing a new environment, or it does not make sense for a rebuilding team to overpay for an aging player, but if you look at the most recent free-agent busts it is almost always bottom of the league rosters overpaying a lot trying to fast-track their rebuild grabbing established players.
The NFL is undoubtedly the sport where context matters the most, which is why player performance does not usually translate well team to team. An edge rusher might be overperforming because he is playing alongside a dominant defensive tackle commanding all the attention, a wide receiver will have to adjust to playing with a new quarterback, a linebacker might have looked good because his team was always losing and thus he did not have to cover the pass that much, there are an absurd amount of reasons a player under, or overperformed. Smart general managers recognize this sort of fog and avoid overpaying for players that carry a lot of risk, and thus entering a vicious circle where because of overpaying for free agents they are handicapped in cap space and fail to re-sign their homegrown players.
Ballard made re-signing his own players a priority, an approach that yielded a higher success rate than just going out and trying to get them in free agency. Sure, there have been some misses, like Ryan Kelly or Kenny Moore for example, but it also helps shape a culture of rewarding hard-work.
There are exceptions to everything, as the Colts have also passed on players that would have helped the team a lot, like Za’Darius Smith, Rodger Saffold, Javon Hargrave, and Matt Judon to name a few, but in the long run, I am much more content with this approach.