Special to the Tribune-Star
With the possible exception of adding a few lesser-priced players, the Indianapolis Colts’ big-time foray into the veteran free-agent marketplace is pretty much done.
For a franchise that has usually watched from the sidelines each spring while other NFL teams threw money at players from other teams, the Colts — flush with nearly $43 million in salary-cap space — added seven players this week.
All seven — defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois (San Francisco), strong safety LaRon Landry (New York Jets), offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (Detroit), offensive guard Donald Thomas (New England), outside linebacker Erik Walden (Green Bay), cornerback Greg Toler (Arizona) and outside linebacker Lawrence Sidbury (Atlanta) — have a chance to be difference-makers either as starters or as key backups.
It’s the most active that the Colts have been in the veteran free agent market since 1999. Former general manager Bill Polian also added seven players heading into his second year on the job, the same as current GM Ryan Grigson.
Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano reviewed their most recent roster additions Friday morning and came away from the past week pleased with the results.
“I just want to thank Ryan, [player personnel director] Jimmy Raye, the entire scouting staff. I don’t think there is anybody in the entire National Football League that grinds like Ryan and his crew grinds and the process that they go through. The evaluation process is unbelievable and I don’t think anybody in the National Football League does it any better,” Pagano said.
“I think that’s why we were able to acquire the players that we were able to acquire and we feel great about every one of them. We feel like we’ve upgraded in a lot of areas.”
The Colts’ coach, in particular, liked the defensive players the team was able to acquire.
“I think we’ve added pieces to the front seven and a couple pieces to the back end that will definitely bring in some great players, add to the great players that we already have and create a ton of competition. I feel really good about that,” he voiced.
Jean-Francois and Landry, in particular, got Pagano’s attention early on.
“When you watch the tape, the No. 1 thing that sticks out is how [Jean-Francois] plays the game. He plays at a high level. He plays square. He’s been in a similar [defensive] front. He understands the technique. He’s great with his hands. He knocks them back … and he played all over that defensive front. He’s a very, very bright kid. From a terminology standpoint he’s got history with [coordinator] Greg [Manusky] in San Francisco, so that was paramount,” the Colts’ coach said.
“That helped in the decision-making process on both ends. So when he comes in here, from a terminology standpoint, scheme standpoint, he understands across the board all three positions across the defensive line. When you talk about versatility he’s played over the center, he’s played the nose, he’s played the three, he’s played a four, he’s played a five technique. He’s done it all and he’s been productive and has played all those positions well.”
As far as the hard-hitting Landry, Pagano figures that he will add a lot to the Indianapolis secondary.
“When our opponents put on the film just like we did this year, he’s a game wrecker. He’s a game changer. When you walk in, people are now going to have to look at it and they are going to have to look at the defensive personnel and one of the first guys they are going to talk about is LaRon Landry,” he previewed. “They are going to say, ‘We’ve got to account for this guy. We’ve got to make sure we block this guy.’ They are going to try and do whatever they can to account for him..”
“We looked at everyone. We went through the process and we ended up with LaRon Landry. That’s who we wanted, that’s who we targeted and we got him. We felt he was the best option for us [at safety] in this free agent market. I think he’s a game changer. We feel he’s an impact player. We think he’s special. I mean he was in the Pro Bowl,” he said.
“His film, I could have my 89-year-old grandmother put on the tape and she’ll know he’s a special talent after three plays. It’s like a stick of dynamite going off when he hits somebody. His range, his top-end speed, his versatility. The word freak is thrown around a lot, ad nauseam, but he is a true freak.”
The addition of Landry means that the Colts might be closing the door on adding Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed to the roster.
“I mean right now with Antoine [Bethea] and Joe [Lefeged] and adding LaRon [Landry] in the mix, it would make no sense to go any further at this point,” Pagano said. “We feel really good about where we’re at.”
Indianapolis. however, did make one roster move at the position as strong safety Tom Zbikowski, a starter last season, was released. The move is expected to save the team around $800,000 under the salary cap.
Zbikowski started 11 games in his only season with the team, totaling 47 tackles (28 solo), four passes broken up, one interception and one sack. In addition, he returned six kickoffs for a total of 123 yards. The former Notre Dame standout recorded his first interception since the 2009 season in the Week 12 win over Buffalo.
The addition of Cherilis and Thomas helps settle things a bit on the Indianapolis offensive line as well.
“What we have coming back and then adding Gosder [Cherilus] and Donald [Thomas], it’s hard to find guys like that. It’s hard to get them in here. Again these guys did a tremendous job and I feel great about the group,” Pagano explained.
“Adding those two guys to the mix, again, our top priority is we’ve got a really special guy under center [quarterback Andrew Luck]. When he’s upright, he’s healthy and we keep him clean, then we’re going to continue to win a lot of football games around here. So adding those two guys was huge and paramount to us moving forward in our success.”