He could have swung for the fences, and no one but Pete Prisco and Nate Dunlevy would have criticized him for it. With nearly $50-million in cap space, more holes than a swiss cheese factory, and an owner willing to throw his 2012 Executive of the Year Award in the face of any doubter, Ryan Grigson had the figurative blank check in his hands.
But instead of signing the top-rated free agents, relying on getting 1 or 2 big-ticket names to patch those holes, Grigson relied on his scouting department to find pieces he felt fit his team's needs, without breaking the bank.
When the dust had settled and the sun had set on Tuesday, the Colts had signed 6 players – 5 from outside of the Colts organization – including 4 new starters. OT Gosder Cherilus and OG Donald Thomas weren't on anyone's radar, but they mark the biggest step towards remaking an offensive line that ranked near the bottom of the league in most useful metrics in 2012.
On defense, CB Greg Toler might be the steal of free agency: a talented, physical corner back, obscured by a 2011 ACL injury and by playing behind CB Patrick Peterson, Grigson plucked him up for 3 years, $15-million. And while no one will confuse Vontae Davis and Toler for the greatest shutdown duo of all time, it will be a massive upgrade over the Colts CB situation from last season – assuming both players can overcome health issues and play a full season.
The biggest shock of the day came from the linebacker position, where Ryan Grigson focused on two players no one in the history of the planet – including their parents – had heard of before: LB Erik Walden (formerly of Green Bay) and (you MUST say his name like this with a British Accent) Sir Lawrence Sidbury, formerly of the Falcons. We don't have anything more than secondhand information from twitter, but right now, it appears that Sir Lawrence Sidbury is little more than a depth guy.
Then there's Walden, who was ranked as the worst LB in the entire universe by ProFootballFocus. Now, I don't always agree with PFF's ratings (in fact, I rarely agree with them), but when someone is ranked the worst player at a position, I take notice. Walden has reportedly signed a 4-year deal worth $16MM, and, according to reports, has been all but guaranteed the starting spot opposite LB Robert Mathis.
I'll be honest with you: I don't know. Maybe Erik Walden is a good player. Maybe he's a great player. I haven't watched film on him, and even if I had, I probably couldn't tell you much more than everyone else is telling you: Erik Walden made around $700,000 last year, was rather unspectacular, and absolutely no one outside of Ryan Grigson and the Colts thought he would get any salary that included a 1 and was followed by that many zeroes.
And really, it's not even the money, but the fact that a guy with Walden's background – including a domestic dispute that sent his girlfriend to the hospital in 2011 – had absolutely no leverage. A 2-year "show me" contract would have been fine, and if he didn't want that, he could have moved on to the imaginary team that was willing to give him what he wanted. But as others have said, if this is Grigson's biggest mistake in free agency, it's definitely one that I, the Colts, and their salary cap structure, can live with.
My only critique of Grigson's first day of shopping would be this: you weren't 11-5 because you had a great team that needed minor tweaking. You were 11-5 because you have a great QB, a nice schedule, and a little Luck (gosh, that wordplay is never going to get old). Even after their signings, the Colts roster is still in need of some dynamic talent. Maybe that comes on day 2, when plenty of impact players are still available, and likely desperate to sign.
But for me, the player I wanted is already off the market. Louis Vasquez signed in Denver for 4-years, $23.5-million. I know, I know, someone will say, "dynamic… guard?" Okay, sure, no one will put Louis Vasquez in the dynamic category, but he is impactful, was one of the best players at his position and cost only slightly more than Erik F. Walden. I like the Donald Thomas signing, but there's no guarantee that he works out as a starter. Pairing Thomas with Vasquez would have been the kind of aggressive move that could have transformed Luck's offensive line from one of the worst in the league, to one of the best. Instead, they still have major questions at one guard position and the center spot. And if Thomas doesn't work out, they're left in basically the same position as last year: an interior so bad that it overrides any and all good done by the tackles.
Still, it's March 13th. There is a lot of time for Grigson to improve the roster, including the draft, where he had his most success last year. So while freaking out may be the hallmark of the twitter generation, the reality is that no championships are won in free agency, but looking at the Eagles last year, or the Redskins and Cowboys from years past, you could certainly argue they are lost.
Patient. Selective. More cost-effective signings. No one is going to confuse Ryan Grigson with Billy Beane and moneyball any time soon, but there's a good chance the Colts boss comes out looking like Brad Pitt when it's all said and done.
(Good, he'll look good. Because Brad Pitt is attractive.)