Free agency has been hit, miss proposition for Colts
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 4, 2016) – It’s that time of year on the NFL calendar when teams routinely wipe personnel mistakes from the books, and everyone once again is reminded the precarious – and expensive – nature of veteran free agency.
The start of the new league year – March 9 – is when teams are allowed to look for quick fixes to flawed rosters and, in many cases, invest in a veteran whose previous team decided it no longer wanted him for whatever reason. Maybe that player was too old, too expensive, prone to injury.
A flashing neon light should herald the commencement of free agency: Buyer beware.
The Indianapolis Colts are a cautionary example of the risk-reward complexion of veteran free agency. Less than one year after signing Andre Johnson to a three-year, $21 million contract that included $10 million in guarantees, he’s been informed he’ll be released, according ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
That hardly comes as breaking news. So many of us have been anticipating Johnson’s departure after his lackluster 2015. We’re also expecting a similar decision with linebacker Trent Cole, although maybe the team keeps him with a restructured and more reasonable contract.
The overriding point: tread lightly into the glitzy free-agent market.
The Colts have been active participants the past three seasons, in large part because their franchise quarterback – No. 12, Andrew Luck – was operating under his salary cap-friendly rookie contract. He counted a modest $7 million against the 2015 cap.
Now, everything escalates and gets a bit more restrictive.
By picking up the fifth-year option on Luck’s rookie deal, the Colts saw his 2016 cap hit balloon to $16.155 million. It will mushroom again when he gets an extension that likely makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history. Look for something averaging at least $22 million annually.
That reality will limit the Colts’ flexibility to add veteran players. It will demand they be better at drafting, developing their young talent and re-signing them.
That in mind, it’s worth a quick refresher course on how the Colts’ have fared in free agency the past three seasons. A look at some of the more impactful signings:
DE Kendall Langford, 2015
- Contract: four years, $17.2 million, $2.5 million guaranteed.
- Bang for buck: A home run. Langford was the team’s best defensive lineman and tied Robert Mathis for the team lead with a career-best 7 sacks.
RB Frank Gore, 2015
- Contract: three years, $12 million, $6.5 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: Gore failed to reach 1,000 yards for just the second time in 10 seasons, but it wasn’t his fault. He earned every inch of his 967 yards. The stunning stat: despite working behind a poor offensive line, Gore finished No. 9 in the league in rushing.
LB D’Qwell Jackson, 2014
- Contract: four years, $22 million, $11 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: Jackson can be a liability in coverage, but he’s led the team in tackles the last two seasons, including a career-best 193 last season. He was named to his first Pro Bowl in ’14.
LB Erik Walden, 2013
- Contract: four years, $16 million, $4 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: We’ve always considered Walden a quality acquisition. In three seasons he’s been solid as an edge-setter (172 tackles) and been an occasional pass-rush threat (12 sacks).
QB Matt Hasselbeck, 2013
- Contract: two years, $7.25 million, $3 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: The team finally invested in a veteran backup and was rewarded last season after re-signing him to a one-year, $3 million contract. Hasselbeck went 5-3 as a starter and kept the Colts relevant while Luck missed nine games with a variety of injuries.
CB Greg Toler, 2013
- Contract: three years, $15 million, $5 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: This was a tough call, and we won’t argue too strenuously if you disagree. We’re putting Toler in this category only because his contract wasn’t over the top. Injuries forced him to miss 14 of 48 games and he was wildly inconsistent.
WR Andre Johnson, 2015
- Contract: three years, $21 million, $10 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: Not nearly enough. Johnson reportedly will be one-and-done after looking the part of 34-year-old receiver last season. He finished with 41 receptions, 503 yards and four TDs. Throw out two games against his old team, Houston, and Johnson caught 32 passes for 394 yards and two TDs.
LB Trent Cole, 2015
- Contract: two years, $14 million, $7.75 million
- Bang for the buck: Cole wasn’t a bust. He contributed 46 tackles, three sacks and seven QB hits, but was expected to offer so much more to the pass rush.
S LaRon Landry, 2013
- Contract: four years, $24 million, $14 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: Arguably general manager Ryan Grigson’s most disappointing acquisition. Landry was expected to be a back-end enforcer. Instead, he represented an NFL mercenary who was suspended four games in ’14 for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. His contract was terminated in February 2015.
OT Gosder Cherilus, 2013
- Contract: five years, $35 million, $16.5 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: Cherilus was the offensive line’s best player in ’13, but injuries limited his effectiveness in ’14. He was released prior to training camp last summer.
Donald Thomas, 2013
- Contract: four years, $14 million, $3.5 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: Another major swing and miss. Thomas started two games and suffered a pair of season-ending injuries.
DT Art Jones, 2014
- Contract: four years, $39 million, $20 million guaranteed.
- Bang for the buck: We’re still waiting, as are the Colts. Ankle injuries limited Jones to nine games in ’14 and he missed all of ’15 after undergoing surgery on his left ankle to repair damage sustained during the preseason. If Jones can stay on the field, he can be a major contributor on the D-line.