Colts adding likely starters, depth through free-agent signings

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They lack the Wow! factor, but let’s not summarily dismiss the half-dozen free agents added to an Indianapolis Colts roster that cried out for veteran assistance.

General manager Chris Ballard resisted the urge to invest in high-profile, high-priced free agents – guard Andrew Norwell, wideouts Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins, linebacker Anthony Hitchens – with the $60-plus million in cap space available to him.

Instead, he followed the blueprint put in place last offseason and targeted second-tier talent. That approach hasn’t added anything resembling a difference-making player to the roster that sorely needs one – or two or three or four – but it has upgraded the quality of the depth and perhaps added a handful of starters for the upcoming season.

The latest acquisition is cornerback Kenneth Acker, who’s started 15 of 40 games during a four-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. He automatically becomes the defense’s most experienced corner at a time when coordinators routinely utilize three or more at least 60 percent of the time in sub packages.

Three of the returning cornerbacks were rookies a year ago: Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston and Kenny Moore II. Chris Milton and D.J. White are entering their third season. Pierre Desir, 27, is heading into his fifth season, but has appeared in just 33 games with 13 starts.

Ballard is committed to strengthening the roster from top to bottom, and it’s clear he’s using free agency to produce increased competition at every position. He seems to be addressing the middle and bottom of the roster with the veteran acquisitions.

The April 26-28 draft needs to deliver more consequential components to the roster. The sixth overall pick should bring immediate impact in the form of running back Saquon Barkley, defensive end Bradley Chubb or guard Quenton Nelson. The three second-rounders must add quality prospects capable of contributing from the outset.

Before we give our total focus to the draft, here’s a quick refresher on the six free agents added:

TE Eric Ebron

  • Contract: 2 years, maximum value of $15 million
  • Career: 56 games, 37 starts in four seasons with the Detroit Lions; 186 receptions, 2,070 yards, 11 TDs.
  • Comment: The 10th overall pick in the 2014 is looking for a fresh start after failing to live up to expectations with the Lions. He’ll be given every opportunity to do precisely that in Frank Reich’s offense. Look for the 6-4, 250-pound Ebron and Jack Doyle, who’s coming off a Pro Bowl season, to play integral roles in the new scheme.

Eric Ebron speaking to the media on April 9, 2018.

DE Denico Autry

  • Contract: 3 years, maximum value of $17.8 million
  • Career: 56 games, 18 starts in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders; 10.5 sacks, 114 tackles, 12 defended passes.
  • Comment: The 6-5, 270-pounder should be viewed as an all-around end and not a major upgrade to the pass rush. The 5 sacks he posted in ’17 are a career high. Even so, Autry should represent a solid edge complement to Jabaal Sheard as the Colts switch to a 4-3 front.

Denico Autry

WR Ryan Grant

  • Contract: 1 year, $5 million
  • Career: 64 games, 15 starts in four seasons with the Washington Redskins; 84 receptions, 985 yards and 6 TDs.
  • Comment: Maybe the Colts have finally gotten it right in finding a viable receiver on the free-agent market. But let’s be honest, the bar is rather low. The previous list includes Donnie Avery, Hakeem Nix, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Andre Johnson and Kamar Aiken. Grant immediately checks in as No. 2 behind T.Y. Hilton and ahead of Chester Rogers.

Ryan Grant #14 of the Washington Redskins (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

OL Matt Slauson

  • Contract: 1 year, $3 million
  • Career: Has started all 108 games during an eight-year career with the New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Chargers.
  • Comment: Any addition to the offensive line room should be considered an upgrade, especially on the interior. No one should be surprised if Slauson opens training camp as one of the starting guards. An interesting tidbit: at 32, he’s the second-oldest Colt (Adam Vinatieri, 45).

Matt Slauson #68 (left) of the San Diego Chargers. (Photo by Peter G Aiken/Getty Images)

LB Najee Goode

  • Contract: 1 year, $790,000
  • Career: 64 games and 4 starts during a six-year career with Tampa Bay and the Philadelphia Eagles; was a special teams standout with the Eagles, and earned a world championship ring from the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII win over New England.
  • Comment: An under-the-radar signing aimed at providing depth at outside linebacker and addressing special teams. Goode had 42 special teams tackles in five seasons with the Eagles. Reich knows what he’s getting with the 27-year old.

Najee Goode #52 of the Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

CB Kenneth Acker

  • Contract: Not available
  • Career: 40 games and 15 starts in four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers; 98 tackles, 12 defended passes and four interceptions.
  • Comment: Training camp competition will determine the pecking order at the position, but Acker should have every opportunity to start or at least be in the three-corner rotation in the nickel.

Kenneth Acker #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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