Indianapolis Colts: Grading the 2013 free-agent class

Landry

Former Jets safety LaRon Landry cashed in big with the Colts in free agency.

With over $40 million in cap space available, the Indianapolis Colts wanted to make some noise in free agency. And did they ever.

But that noise isn’t universally praising, with some… well, let’s just say “questionable” signings. But overall. I would have to say that Colts GM Ryan Grigson (aka “Grigs”) definitely improved the team at some key areas.

*Author’s note: This list focuses solely on external free agents. Information from www.spotrac.com was used for the contract figures.

LaRon Landry, S (NYJ)

Overall Grade: A

Contract: 4 years, $24 million ($11 million guaranteed)

Landry has proven that, when he’s on the field, he is a difference maker at safety, which is a huge position of need. When he’s on the field.

Last season with the Jets, Landry registered 100 total tackles, forced four fumbles, and intercepted 2 passes, all culminating in his first Pro Bowl nod in seven seasons. However, 2012 was the first time in 4 years that he’s played in all 16 games (he started 15). From 2009 to 2011, Landry missed an average of 5.3 games each year. While that might bring visions of Bob Sanders to many Colts fans’ minds, I don’t think that will be the case with Landry. Add that to the fact that the Colts and the Jets both now run similiar defensive schemes, and this could be a great pickup for Indy.

Gosder Cherilus, RT (DET)

Grade: B+

Contract: 5 years, $34.5 million ($15.5 million guaranteed)

The Colts had to get some help on the offensive line, and Cherilus can add that needed improvement right away. He’s been durable in 5 seasons with Detroit, missing a total of 5 games in 5 seasons. He’s young enough to be able to protect Luck and provide solid, veteran leadership along the line for the next five years.

So why only a B+? well, making him the second highest paid right tackle in the entire NFL may be a bit of a stretch. Yes, he’s good, but good enough to deserve the kind of pay day Colts owner Jim Irsay and GM Ryan Grigson gave him? We’ll have to see, but right now I’d have to say no.

Donald Thomas, G (NE)

Grade: B

Contract: 4 years, $14 million

Again, this is a signing to help the Colts offensive line provide greater protection for it’s 2nd year quarterback. Thomas was a key back-up in New England, seeing action in 26 games and starting 8 in 2 years. How he handles being a full-time starter for the first time will be key, but the fact that the Colts signed him without any guaranteed money makes this deal easier to swallow.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB (TEN)

Grade: B

Contract: 2 years, $7.5 million ($3 million guaranteed)

Call this the “Curtis Painter” effect. When it was apparent that former back up QB Drew Stanton was headed to Arizona with former Colts OC and new Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, the need for a veteran back up increased exponentially. Hasselbeck has been successful, and can teach Luck some things while holding the clipboard. And if Luck does go down for any reason, at least someone better than Kerry Collins is there to take the reins.

Aubrayo Franklin, NT (SD)

Grade: B

Contract: 1 year, financials not disclosed

Purely a depth pick, considering Indy already has Antonio Johnson, Fili Moala, and Josh Chapman in addition to free agent signee Ricky-Jean Francois. Franklin brings a lot of experience to the equation, and though the money hasn’t been disclosed to date, a one-year deal has to be on the cheap.

Greg Toler, CB (ARI)

Grade: B-

Contract: 3 years, $15 million ($5 million guaranteed)

This would be a higher grade if Toler didn’t have the same kind of problems as former Colt cornerback Jerraud Powers had in Arizona: health. In 3 seasons Toler has never completed a full season, playing in a total of 38 games out of a possible 48, and starting in just 15. By all accounts, Toler is hard hitting and can be a difference maker when playing. But giving $5 million guaranteed to someone who hasn’t been able to play seems a little risky.

Ricky Jean-Francois, NT (SF)

Grade: C

Contract: 4 years, $22 million ($6.5 million guaranteed)

First, let me get this out of the way. I actually like the fact the Colts braintrust brought Jean-Francois in. He’s a big body, and is young enough (26 years old) where he can still develop into, if nothing else at least, a decent starting NT.

However, there’s really no situation where you should be paying a career back-up who is still developing $22 million. Jean-Francois had better to play up to his contract, or this could be one of the bigger free agency busts for the Colts in a long while.

Erik Walden, LB (GB)

Grade: D-

Contract: 4 years, $16 million ($4 million guaranteed)

Speaking of potential big free-agency busts…

I at first tried to defend this. I thought to myself that ILB Jerrell Freeman, a CFL player, was unknown and untested when the Colts signed him. So maybe Walden, who in 5 seasons has never totaled more than 60 tackles, might be a diamond in the rough. But then I relaized Freeman only got a 3 year, $1.44 million deal, far less than what the Colts gave Walden. For this to be worth it, Walden has to develop into a Pro Bowl linebacker in no more than 2 years. Otherwise, this will officially be Grigson’s first “WTF” moment.

Lawrence Sidbury, LB (ATL)

Grade: Incomplete

Contract: 1 year, $715,000

Nothing to get excited about here. A back-up player for the Falcons who signed a back-up contract to play back-up for the Colts.

Overall Gade – B+ (not an average)

All in all, I think the Colts improved greatly in several needed areas (the O-line and defensive backfield, particularly). I still think that they need more help at CB, and will likely keep pursuing options at WR in either free-agency or the draft. Some of the money doled out by the Colts is a little surprising, and in a few cases questionable. But the benefits are likely going to outweigh the risks, so it was a good overall effort by a team looking to continue improvement in 2013.

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