Guest Post: Were the Colts Free Agents Worth the Money?

[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Colts Authority Reader Matt Shedd. I hope you enjoy his approach to analyzing the Colts' free agent signings. Let him know in the comments below!]


I’m a Colts fan, and it’s free agency.  That typically means that I should be doing nothing but reading mock drafts, preparing to see the new stock of talent that the Colts will bring in and develop.  Of course, that was the pattern of fandom under the Old Regime.

This off-season, however, is filled with excitement—whether that is good for the team or not remains to be seen.  Free agency is exciting this year.  The Colts are actually going after people.  Jim Irsay is throwing money around like he is buying up real estate in a game of Monopoly.  The new excitement comes with a new set of questions.

What are the Colts actually getting out of all their money spent?  How do you even judge a GM during free agency?  How do you actually decide the value of a free agent?

That is the question I set out to understand.  You can judge FA acquisitions from a few different viewpoints, such as player talent, market, or raw numbers.  The question I wanted to seek, though, was what value each of our new players brought to their last team, and compare that to what we paid them.

Value is important.  Two guys on two different teams can both catch 100 passes and have the same yardage, but the value that those catches brought can be entirely different.  Pro Football Reference has a system for judging these values—called approximate value (AV)—that I used for this test.  You can read the entire formula for how AV is determined on their website, but allow me to say just a couple things about it.

First, AV includes team success.  A good team offense has more AV points to divvy up than a poor offense.  This means that a more valuable team will have more value given to their role players.

Second, AV is hardly perfect.  According to this year’s AV ratings, RG III was the 2nd most valuable QB on their team, while Peyton Manning sat around 10th.   I am willing to say simply that that is simply not an accurate description of their respective value.

With these things in mind, lets go through our new guys one at a time:

Laron Landry (AV 9)

Landry posted a nice AV on a less than great team last year, meaning that he was a very valuable player.  How valuable?  Landry was responsible for 5% of all the AV that the Jets earned in 2012.  If he brings the same value to the Colts, he will improve the Colts defense drastically.

If Landry earned 5% of his teams worth, that should mean that he is worth about 5% of the cap as well.  That would put his cap hit on a new salary at about $6.2 million.  Considering the Colts are actually spending about $5.7 million per year, signing Landry was actually a steal.  The key is whether he will actually continue to be as valuable to his new team as he was to his old.

Gosder Cherilus (AV 8)

Cherilus represents the reality of Free Agency quite nicely.  His AV of 8 was on a team with more overall value than the Jets, but still not a great team.  It ended up being worth 4% of the Lions total AV, which would place a fair contract for him at $4.9 million.

The reality, though, is that you would not have been in contention to get Cherilus at that price.  His $7.5 million per year is a massive overpay and is common in Free Agency.

Donald Thomas (AV 5)

Thomas, according to this simply percentage of value system should be worth about $2.3 million a year.  His contract has him making a little bit more than that per year.  The key here is that he will certainly bring more value than his replacement, and he will also have more opportunity to bring value on this team than in New England.  Overall this contract is pretty close to right on.

Erik Walden (AV 5)

Remember now that this system is based on a percentage of overall team value.  Erik Walden, while having the same AV number as Donald Thomas, did so on a team with less total AV points available.  Therefore his percentage is slightly higher.

Walden’s contract, according to my numbers, should be about 2.3 million per year.  His first year salary of $3.2 million per year, while a slight overpay, is not disastrous based on this model (Though PFF might disagree with the value he added to the Packers in 2012).

Greg Toler (AV 2)

Toler’s contract is built completely on the assumption that he can play a more significant role than he did in 2012.  We signed him based on what we hope he will bring, not on what he did bring in the past.  His 2 AV points was worth 1.1% of the Cardinals total last year.  A contract to reflect that would be about 1.3 million per year.  What did the Colts give him?  $4.3 million this year alone.  As fans, we better hope Toler starts, and plays well all season to earn that salary.

Ricky Jean-Francois (AV1)

We come now to the worst contract the Colts signed BY FAR.  The first year of Francois’ contract is worth 2.3 million dollars.  This doesn’t seem too bad for a guy that we are counting on fortifying our D-line, and it isn’t if he comes through.

However, the problem is that for the 49ers last year, he just wasn’t very valuable.  In fact, he was completely expendable.  His AV of 1 was worth a minuscule .4% of their total AV, which would translate to a contract of $400K per year.  He has done nothing to prove that he is worth the type of contract he was given.  In fact, in four years with the Niners he has yet to display much value to their team.

What does it all mean?

The reality is that these numbers only point to something that any alert fan already knew.  They tell us that the Colts paid a lot of money for guys who have not yet proven they are worth it.  The odds are that at least a couple of these guys prove their worth in the next year, and a couple of them will be the next Zibby or Booger and fail to live up to their contract at all.

Looking at the numbers, I would guess that the guys that will succeed  in living up to the number will be Thomas, Landry, and perhaps Walden. Francois seems doomed to failure, as does Toler.  Cherilus may never earn the big money he is being paid, but he will probably bring enough value to the team that nobody will bother to question the size of his contract.