Everyone knew the Colts had over $43 million to spend in free agency, but how was Ryan Grigson planning to spend it? Instead of going after high-price prizes like Jake Long, Paul Kruger, and Mike Wallace, Grigson chose to target mid-level players on the (somewhat) cheap. In the process, the Colts took a step towards filling some of their holes, even if their five-player haul lacks name recognition with casual NFL fans.
The Colts used half of their spending money on bargain buys
Here's what they accomplished during a hectic first day of free agency:
OT Gosder Cherlius (5 years/$34M): Cherilus, once a First Round draft pick, is coming off a breakout year for Detroit. Despite having an unremarkable four-year career prior to 2012, Cherilus was the NFL's second-best right tackle last season according to Pro Football Focus. Cherilus instantly becomes an upgrade over the oft-injured Winston Justice, and the oft-incapable Jeff Linkenbach. While he has had knee issues in the past, it hasn't affected his playing time. Cherilus has only missed four games in his career, making seventy starts, and only missed one snap last season. Barring something unforseen, he will be the other bookend on the Colts' offensive line in 2013, joining fellow Boston College alumnus Anthony Castonzo. (UPDATE: The Colts paid a hefty price for Cherilus, forking over a $10M signing bonus. It is unknown if there is any other guaranteed money in the deal.)
OLB Erik Walden (4 years/$15M): This move was one of the surprises of the day. Walden was a free agent a year ago, and agreed to come back to the Packers on a paltry $700k deal last year. Considering he'll make five times what his 2012 contract paid him, one would believe he had a much better season then he ended up having. As Zach Kruse of Cheesehead TV pointed out, Walden has graded out as the worst 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL not just in 2012, but in 2011 as well. Reports indicate that Walden will likely start opposite of Robert Mathis, but he isn't even an upgrade over the disappointing Jerry Hughes. (UPDATE: Turns out that Walden is only getting $4M in guaranteed money in that deal. That makes it slightly more appealing.)
CB Greg Toler (3 years/$15M): Toler is a bit of an injury risk, but an intriguing one at that. When healthy, the 28-year old has shown potential. However, Toler missed five games last year with hamstring issues, and the entire 2011 season after major knee surgery. It wouldn't be a surprise if Indy opened up the #2 CB spot in Camp (Vaughn? Gordy? Butler?), but Toler will be the clear front-runner to win the job. CBS ranked him 54th on their Top 100 Free Agents list.
OG Donald Thomas (unspecified): Thomas is valuable because of his versatility. He appeared in all sixteen games with the Patriots last season, starting seven times, and playing both guard spots. While the Colts did tender Joe Reitz, his checkered injury history makes him tough to rely on, and Mike McGlynn was the team's worst offensive lineman in 2012.
DE Lawrence Sidbury (unspecified): Unlike the other signings, it appears Sidbury is strictly a depth move. He played four years in Atlanta as a defensive end, but will be an outside linebacker for the Colts. You may remember Sidbury from his eye-popping NFL Combine performance in 2009, when he ran the fastest 40-time (4.64 seconds) of any defensive end. Though he has elite speed, he's had little production as a backup, totalling just seventeen tackles and five sacks (four in 2012) in 48 career games.