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Roundtable: Free Agency

Hello Colts fans. Welcome to another Colts Authority Roundtable. Since free agency began on March 9th, the team has been busier than ever, inking 10 players from other teams. This number represents the most in team history. Who knows, by the time this article is posted, they could have very well added another one.

The new additions are:

LB Jabaal Sheard LB John Simon LB Sean Spence LB Barkevious Mingo NT Al Woods DE Margus Hunt TE Brandon Williams WR Kamar Aiken OL Brian Schwenke P Jeff Locke

While it is a bountiful list, it is certainly not a high profile one. With that in mind, I asked our writers to give their opinions on the team’s free agency approach, and if there was a particular signing they felt would be a good addition. As usual, they rose to the occasion.

-Jeff

Nate Wilson:

I like everything that Ballard has done so far. Nothing too splashy. No real big names landed, but he hasn’t tied up a bunch of long term money in old players, but signed some players to one year “prove-it” deals.

The best thing about this has been his contract structures.  From the very limited amount that I understand, he has been very realistic and team minded. Basically giving the Colts the ability to walk away from any of these guys without taking a huge (if any) hit.

Outside of John Simon, I doubt any of these guys will make a huge impact beyond acting as a stop gap until the talent acquired from the draft is known, but the potential for some of these players is there, and I hope they can prove me wrong. Some have nothing to lose and that can be a powerful motivator.

Nate Dunlevy:

For all the criticism that Ryan Grigson justifiably received, the one thing he did very well at was free agency.

Now, I know that is counter-intuitive because he signed a lot of crappy players, but people forget that signing crappy players is what free agency is all about. Grigson had some relative hits (Adams, Walden, Gore) but more importantly than the successes was the fact that his failures didn’t hurt the team financially. Almost every deal the Colts inked was one they could walk away from if they needed to (and they often needed to).

I believe that’s the best any GM can hope to do in free agency: find a hit or two, and basically don’t ruin your salary cap for years.

The Colts under Ballard are clearly addressing the gaping hole that is the linebacking corps, and that’s great. Most of these players aren’t great talents, but they are arguably upgrades to the flotsam and jetsam they were playing in the middle.

As long as any or all of these guys can be cut this time next year, then it’s a good free agency season.

Josh McMillan:

Although I do somewhat miss the wild free-agency benders that Ryan Grigson & Jim Irsay would go on (I don’t), it is refreshing to see Chris Ballard’s plan taking its intended shape. From day one, all we have heard is ‘transparency’ this, ‘competition’ that; and historically with General Managers, it can essentially be chalked up to cliché that has long been reverberating around the NFL. However, Chris Ballard has done exactly what he said that he would do: create a competitive roster. Ballard has signed young, potential-filled, short-term free agents who are keen on earning their keep in Indianapolis.

The most recent signing that I have become enamored with is the Kamar Aiken signing. A physical specimen (6’2”, 215, 4.4 speed), Aiken has proved that he is ready to produce whenever called upon. The question is when he gets called on though. Buried beneath Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, and Breshad Perriman during his Baltimore days, all Aiken ever wanted was a chance. Inversely in Indianapolis, there is Phillip Dorsett who Colts fans have been begging to produce since his unwarranted 1st round selection in 2015. Ballard has lit a fire under Dorsett’s seat now.

Ballard has been decisive, deliberate, and choosey during this process. Colts Nation should have nothing but high expectations for his ability to continue this theme of competition come draft day.

Ryan Kennedy:

This team, specifically this defense, is not something that can be fixed overnight. It’s important to remember that.

Great teams are not built through free agency. The key to setting up a team for sustained success is drafting well. Failure to do so is a huge reason the Colts are 16-16 over the last two seasons.

It appears that Ballard recognizes this. I like the moves he’s made so far. That being said, a blindfolded Ballard throwing a dart at a list of linebackers would still have a good shot at upgrading the roster.

The players he’s signed are low risk “meh” level guys who have a chance to contribute without crippling the team financially. That’s fine by me.

I’ll wait to see how Ballard drafts before I start singing his praises from the rooftops. For now I’m just whistling a tune on the sidewalk.

Casey Burks:

I like what the Colts have done so far in free agency. There was 2-3 bigger name free agents I liked this season, but I’m okay with Ballard passing on them.

I like the low-risk linebackers that they can easily get rid of after one season if they want. With how bad the linebackers were last season it’s almost a guarantee these guys will be an upgrade.

I also like the Kamar Aiken signing. It’s a cheap deal for a big body receiver. Whether he’s the No. 3 receiver or he pushes Dorsett to improve, I like it. Most fans don’t believe it but the Colts haven’t had much depth at the position.

Marcus Dugan:

I’m an optimistic guy, but I’m not convinced former first round pick Barkevious Mingo is going to have a belated breakout and become a star. That being said, neither is Chris Ballard. He’s targeting role players in free agency and banking on drafting his stars.

You want a difference maker at each level of defense – DL/OLB, ILB, S/DB (The Colts under Grigson didn’t have this).  It won’t matter, however, if there aren’t any solid players filling the gaps at the other positions (Yeah, not many of those either).  Ballard is addressing that second deficiency while grabbing players who still have something to prove, either because they haven’t lived up to their potential (Sheard, Mingo, Hunt), or they want to prove they can be a full-time starter (Simon, Woods).

If any of these players winds up having a huge season, it’s an added bonus.  If they work out on a less exciting level, they’ll help take the pressure off of their teammates.  If they do neither, well, you know, blah blah blah favorable contracts.

As for the punter and tight end, those were positions of need. But so was wide receiver.  Philip Dorsett, at this point, is just a guy who happens to be fast (Prepare to start hearing people call him a “former first round pick”).  Donte Moncrief is somewhat injury prone.  T.Y. Hilton can’t do everything. Don’t sound the alarm bells and yell about it on Twitter if Ballard drafts another WR for depth.

Jerald Pierce:

You know, I keep trying to write an answer and it keeps wandering into other topics. Here’s the simple answer: Ballard is doing exactly what any logical vaguely football savvy person would do.

By that, I mean, he saw what literally everyone else saw about the Colts. There are no linebackers, there’s a couple of bright spots on the DLine but not really solid depth or rotation, the OLine needs a backup/occasional starter now that Reitz retired, your punter retired, the offense is pretty set but your 1st round WR needs a little push/competition, and you have an oft injured TE whose production you can replace.

That’s not mind blowing analysis, that’s simply watching games. So, what do you do? Logically? Acknowledging that you can’t do everything in the draft.

-Get new LB/pass rush depth because you have none (check)
-Add a DLineman to join the line with probably a rookie (check)
-Get a Punter (check)
-Replace Reitz (check)
-Trade Allen, resign Doyle (check)

Aside from finding a true star pass rusher, the only glaring issues that Ballard hasn’t addressed yet is finding a running mate for Vontae and finding the successor to Gore. Gut feeling? Ballard gets all three in the draft. (Or at least attempts to.)

But this is what I like about Ballard. As personable as he seems, his actions are cold and calculated. Complete logic. The guy has 90 spots to fill before training camp, he has to get a lot of players. The approach is sound in that it’s just common sense.

The real judgement will come in a year or two when some of these players are awful. Because that’s what Free Agency is: The Cast-off lottery. You take your chances and hope to hit the big one. But when he loses, the question is, will he be better at cutting and running than his predecessor?

 

Speaking of cutting and running, during the writing of this article the team (finally) announced the release of Art Jones. Could this signal another signing? It’s certainly possible.

See you soon, Colts fans.