Colts Free Agency: So what’s the deal with this Gosder Cherilus fellow?

I had this whole waves vs. ripples analogy ready to go but then I saw that Indy Star had already beaten me to the punch.  In all seriousness, I know that many of us expected some big marquee names to be inked yesterday, what with the veritable treasure trove of money we had burning a hole in Irsay’s man cave (and our eccentric owner’s tweets about suitcases full of 100 million dollars did little to lessen that expectation), but I think it’s notable and, dare I say, laudable even that Ryan Grigson practiced what he has been preaching all week and didn’t spend money just to spend it. 

While our flush cohorts, Cleveland and Miami, were handing out 8 figure salaries like bong hits at Woodstock, Grigson kept a level head and made some solid under-the-radar signings that will both help this team get better and not cripple the franchise should one or more of them not pan out (I admit, I don’t understand paying Erik Walden $16 million, but that’s someone else’s problem).

Chief among these signing was a reported 5 year, 34 million dollar deal for 28 year old, 6’7”, 325 lbs., right tackle, formerly of the Detroit Lions, Gosder Cherilus.  Now, if the immediate reaction on twitter was any indication, I’m sure many of you initially thought, “WHO?”  Yes, he isn’t a household name and you wouldn’t find him on any of the top 10 free agents lists that you probably saw inundating the internet in the past few weeks (actually he was on a couple, but not many), but before anyone starts burning Grigson dolls in effigy, let’s take a look at who Gosder Cherilus is and why I think the Colts got themselves a steal.

Cherilus went to Boston College where he started 37 consecutive games at right tackle before moving to left tackle in his senior year.  He was taken 17th overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2008 draft where he won the starting right tackle job his rookie year and has started 71 out of a possible 80 games in his 5 years in Detroit.  Here’s a blurb from his scouting report heading into that draft from NFLDraftScout.com via NFL.com:

“Has a tall, lanky frame with excellent arm length, large, strong hands, a huge wingspan and room on his frame to carry at least another 25 pounds of bulk without having it impact his quickness [editors note: for what it’s worth, he was listed at 315 then and is now listed at 325]… Communicates well with his guards and tight ends and shows good alertness on the field…Intelligent athlete who will not have problems taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field…Regarded by the coaching staff as the team's most important player and takes pride in his leadership role, taking younger blockers under his wing…Tough player who works hard to finish and responds well to hard coaching, especially when challenged, and is motivated to work on the little techniques in his game…”

Communicates well, intelligent, and a team first guy… sounds a lot like the kind of player the Colts love to sign. 

Somewhat ironically, Cherilus was more of a run blocker in college, the scouting report even lists his pass blocking as a liability, “Needs help in pass protection, as he gets his feet too wide at times and this causes him to struggle to recover vs. quick-twitch defensive linemen,” but we know that pass protection is exactly where he’s made his reputation as an NFL right tackle, per Pro Football Focus:

“Cherilus was in fact knocking on the door of All-Pro consideration at right tackle this season, and in the Lions’ extremely pass-heavy offense he played extremely well, recording a Pass Blocking Efficiency among the league’s Top 10 tackles (96.3).”

It’s a great sign, in my estimation anyway, that he took what was a perceived weakness coming out and turned it into a strength of his game in the NFL.  At the very least it seems to reinforce what was stated in the scouting report, that Cherilus is a strong character player who works hard to improve weaknesses in his game.  It also doesn’t hurt that Gosder apparently chose Indy as much as we chose him, per his agent, Gregory Diulus, "It only took an hour and 15 minutes, so yeah, it went pretty quickly.  We had several others (interested teams), but this is a place where he really told me in advance that he wanted to go, so we were glad they got it done." 

PFF graded this deal by the Colts as a solid “common sense” signing that, while not flashy, represents great value at a position of serious need.  Cherilus was the highest graded pass blocking right tackle in all of football by PFF last season, giving up only 4 sacks and 7 QB hits in more than 800 pass blocking snaps (Detroit threw the ball a lot, you may have heard).  Here's his weekly grading chart which illustrates his consistent high level of play; that's quite a lot of green:

Gosder Cherilus PFF Grades

For Contrast's sake, here's the chart for Winston Justice, the man he will be replacing at RT (I will spare you the chart showing Jeff Linkebach, the fillin for Justice, it's just too ugly to make public):

Winston Justice PFF Chart

While $6.5 million a year may sound like a lot, consider that the annual salary in the NFL at right tackles is just north of $5 million and it’s worth noting that we don’t yet know the full details of his contract.  The Colts got a potential pro-bowl RT for a reasonable price, I’d call that a solid signing.

Here’s what some others around the league are saying about the signing:

Pro Football Focus – “While Cherilus was never a favorite of the Lions faithful, he had developed into a useful starting right tackle. After a tough rookie year he’s graded positively every season since and held up well in the Lions heavy pass based offense. In fact it was his pass blocking that saw him end up our second ranked right tackle last year, with his pass blocking efficiency grade the 12th best of all offensive tackles as he gave up just 38 quarterback disruptions on 787 Stafford drop-backs. For a Colts team that saw it’s offensive line give up a league leading 244 combined sacks, hits and hurries, that’s a big improvement.”

[For contrast sake, and an example of how iffy talent evaluation is in the NFL] Bill Polian appearing on The Herd on ESPN Radio – “Cherilus is a Stanford type right tackle.  Does this tell you that they’re going more with Pep Hamilton, what they did at Stanford… as opposed to what Bruce Arians did which was much more what we had done with Peyton, open it up, are they going to be more ball control, pound and ground, play action, all the stuff that Andrew did at Stanford?… Cherilus is not what you would call a great pass protector, but he’s a good all-around tackle and he certainly can run block, he’s very good at that.”  

Peter King of SI rated Cherilus his 26th best free agent.

Scouts Inc. of ESPN.com"Cherilus has been a mainstay along the Lions' offensive line since entering the league in 2008. He has great length with good strength and adequate athleticism for the position. He is tough to contend with if he engages with defenders early in the play, locking on and staying connected. He can be inconsistent at playing with proper pad level, which exposes his lack of recovery agility in pass protection. Cherilus has progressed each season and brings experience to the offensive line."

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report ranks Cherilus as the NFL's 7th best right tackle giving him a grade of 80/100 and 44/50 in pass protection – "Gosder Cherilus (6'7", 325 pounds, five seasons) has quicker hands and feet than you would expect from a man his size. Cherilus has a good kick-and-shuffle move, especially when going back off the line of scrimmage to meet edge-rushers.  He has very quick hands and will strike at defenders and stun them. While he can get a bit upright at times, he’s strong enough to overcome most bull rushes he’ll see… Our preseason rankings of the top right tackles didn't put Cherilus anywhere close to the top 10 players, but he earned it this year with top-level pass protection on the back-side."

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So what are your thoughts on Gosder Cherilus? Mine? Who names their kid Gosder?

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