Colts Authority Fireside Chats: Grading Grigson’s Shopping Spree

The money has been spent, the contracts signed, the jerseys stitched. All that's left in the 2014 Free Agency period is for the Carolina Panthers to sign 5 receivers and for us to harshly judge the Colts' moves.

In this week's fireside chat, we'll do just that, assigning  the Colts a grade for their FA performance, examining their best and worst moves, and deciding what work is left to do.

Here is the exact question posed to our writers, their answers after the jump, feel free to add yours in the comments!

"With the FA signings winding down to a crawl, it's time to look back on the job that Ryan Grigson did. Your questions:

 
1) What grade (A, B, C, D, F) would you assign to the Colts FA signings?
 
2) Which signing was the best?
 
3) Which signing was the worst?
 
4) Do you believe the Colts are better now than they were a week ago?
 
5) Do you believe the Colts are a legitimate Super Bowl contender now?
 
6) What pressing holes/needs do you believe the Colts have left to fill between now and the start of the year?"

 

 

Olly Dawes

1) B.

2) Whilst I like Arthur Jones I think the deal we got for Hakeem Nicks is excellent value for me.

3) I still don't like the D'Qwell Jackson deal. I don't think he's a great fit and better linebackers went for less money.

4) I do, they've only really lost Bethea but added size on the defensive line and another good receiver.

5) Not yet. There are still holes at Center, Safety, Nose Tackle and I don't think we have the necessary pass rush to have a really deep playoff run.
 
6) As above, have to find starters at Center and Safety, but more pass rushing and cornerback depth is a must, as well as some depth on the offensive line.
 
 
 
Ben Gundy
 
1) I'd give them a solid B for keeping their own players and finding a few reasonably priced guys to bring in. Grigson has been smart in his targets and measured in his contract sizes. Other than the ongoing lack of solid starters at center and safety, things seem to be going well.

2) It has to be the Nicks signing. Whatever struggles he's had the past couple years, he's a big-time talent, and they got him on a very reasonable contract.

3) Nothing sticks out to me as especially bad. I even liked the Costa signing, given the low price. I suppose the D'Qwell Jackson contract was a little hefty, but I like the move to upgrade at ILB.

4) Definitely. They haven't lost anyone essential (I like Bethea, but it was time for him to go) and they've added some useful players. Jones and Jackson should be helpful on defense and Bradshaw and Nicks will give Luck more options.

5) I thought they were semi-legitimate contenders last season. They were flawed, but they showed they could beat anybody if things went right. I think they'll be around that level again next year. They should be a little better, particularly if they can find some help in the draft, but they'll likely need everything to break their way to have a shot at a title. It feels like 2015 will probably be their best chance at winning one before all the young guys get paid.

6) The obvious holes are center and safety, but I'd like to see them add depth at cornerback and guard as well. Toler gets hurt a lot and Butler is better in the slot, so getting a couple more competent guys will be important.

 
 

Marco Gutiérrez

1) B: Liked Arthur Jones, Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw. Not in love with D'Qwell Jackson or Vontae Davis' new deal. At least Vontae covers a need and there's upside there.   

2) Hakeem Nicks. If it works out, he could be the best WR on the team.
 
3) I'm going with Jackson. It's not terrible but that contract looks a bit excessive. Again, I'm not happy about Davis' contract. Reminds me of Kelvin Hayden and we know how that worked out. 
 
4) I do. The addition of Nicks will help a lot and both Jones and Jackson can only make this defense better. 
 
5) Hard to tell. There are still plenty of problems to fix and I don't think they are as good as Denver or even New England. Truth is, the AFC isn't very impressive, and if the Colts get to the playoffs, anything is possible. 
 
6) Center and safety. Those are two major needs. Not sure they can address both in the draft, especially without a first-round pick. The Colts need depth at cornerback and they should try to improve their pass rush.
 
 
Nate Dunlevy
 
1) It's a solid B. Overall, there are far fewer whaa?? deals than in 2013.

 

2) Nicks was a great deal at the right price.
 

3) Vontae Davis got a contract that the team will regret in 12 months.
 

4) Yes. They made a reasonable case that the offense is going to be superior.
 

5) As much as I did before. In a weak AFC, I think they are at worst the third-best team.
 

6) They still aren't good at linebacker or safety. They still need to upgrade at center and guard. I think the secondary is weak overall. Davis is a 2nd/3rd corner on a good defense. If he's your best player in the secondary, your secondary isn't very good.

 

Kyle Rodriguez

1. B+. I still don't like the D'Qwell Jackson signing or the way they've handled the center and safety positions, but the contracts they've given out have been fair, and they've signed more *actually* good players than they did last season.

2. The Nicks and Bradshaw deals were both good signings. "Prove-it" deals in which they may not care about the long-term potential anyway. But they'll get veteran production this season, which is what they desperately needed for those two positions. 
 
3. Jackson. I have a vastly different opinion of Vontae Davis than Nate does, and I love the way the team structured his deal. There aren't any numbers explaining how important Davis is to the Colts' scheme (although he did have a top 10 success rate for cornerbacks last year), because numbers don't take into account different corners' roles. Davis isn't an All-Pro, but in the Colts' scheme, he certainly can be a Pro Bowler. 
 
Jackson, on the other hand, hasn't been good for two years, and he sure isn't going to help the run defense. He's better in coverage than the horrific options the Colts had prior to the signing, but I don't think he was better than other options on the market like Daryl Smith or Karlos Dansby.
 
4. Yes, but only marginally outside of them simply getting healthier. On paper they have better talent on the defensive line and at wide receiver. But, they are worse at safety and possibly center, while I'm not convinced that linebacker will be noticeably improved (especially with Mathis aging). The team still needs to make another move in free agency and needs a strong draft.
 
5. Yes, because of Andrew Luck and a (*crosses fingers*) healthier, more talented passing game. 
 
6. I'm going to break this down into tiers, because there are still needs across the board.
 
Tier 1: Starting center (Phil Costa is not a starting option), starting safety
Tier 2: CB, nose tackle, ILB, depth OL
Tier 3: Long-term WR (Wayne replacement)

 

Greg Cowan

1) B.  Costa was the only real head scratcher for me. Every other signing addressed a need. My only issues are philosophical (more on that later).

2) Tie? I really like the Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks deals. Without Bradshaw, the Colts backfield is scary. And while Nicks wasn't really needed to make the Colts passing offense dangerous or elite, I love this move for a few reasons:

a) it's low-risk, high-reward. Unlike DHB, Nicks has a history of being good.

b) I like Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill but also accept that they are supremely talented and supremely raw. The Nicks signing buys time for the players to develop.

c) Depth is always good. We saw what two injuries did to the Colts last year. Nicks is just an added layer of protection. <I'll fight the urge to make a joke or give him a nickname here>

3) Costa?  My reaction is to say Vontae Davis, but while I think he's overrated and overpaid, the deals doled out at CB over the past two weeks have all been in the same neighborhood, and Grigson seemed to do a good job of structuring it in a way that helped the Colts maximize future space as needed.

So what's my issue with Costa, a relatively low-money signing?  Phil Costa, to me, is like DHB (in hindsight) and Mike McGlynn (in every sight): if they are playing significant time for you, you're in trouble. People keep telling me to relax, Costa isn't their solution at starter, but I'm not sure how that's supposed to make me feel better. If the guy isn't good enough to play – and look, that's what his history tells us – then why would I want to spend any amount of money on him? Why would I want to put myself in a position where he is second in line? The Colts have injury problems, if you don't think Phil Costa is killing them in the playoffs next year, you've been in a coma for a decade.

Look at the deal Evan Dietrich-Smith signed: It was very cap-friendly. I'd rather Grigson have upped the money on THAT contract and nabbed a legitimate starter. Maybe he has a plan (Mack?), maybe he doesn't. But center is a really important position and Grigson needs to find a long term solution at the position, not a bandaid.

4) Yes

5) Emphatic no, for now, I'll explain why in #6.

6) The obvious ones are easy: opposing QBs have to be licking their lips at the prospects of facing a tandem of either Delano Howell or LaRon Landry at safety, and the aforementioned center position has a gaping hole at starter.

But neither of those issues are what make me think this team is far from a legitimate contender.

As Kyle, Jason and I were doing our live Free Agency Show (shameless plug, give it a listen! Not Safe for Work, by the way) I was looking at the Colts' roster and it hit me like a ton of bricks:

the Colts are still lacking a Championship-caliber pass rush.

Last year, Robert Mathis played out of his mind, coming within another game against Blaine Gabbert of setting the single-season sack record. His beast mode was not enough to help the Colts pass defense down the stretch.

So what did the Colts do this off-season? They signed an upgrade in D'Qwell Jackson at ILB and an upgrade at DE in Arthur Jones. Notice I say they are upgrades. I'm not saying either is a bad player. I'm not saying either makes the team worse. But both signings – especially the Arthur Jones signing – show the philosophical difference between me (a writer) and the Colts (the only people who matter).

Instead of Jones – a good run stopper who has shown minimal ability to rush the passer: the Colts had an opportunity to nab Lamarr Houston – a 6ft 3", 300lb DE who runs a 4.84 40 and can rush the passer. 

People have told me that the Colts expect big things from Bjoern Werner moving forward. That's great. I hope they do. He's a 1st-round pick! But you HAVE to get a pass rush from different areas, you can't just rely on your OLBs. Every great 3-4 defense has at least one DL who can create havoc in the backfield. The Colts lack that player. Jones will be a huge upgrade, for sure, but this is a team who has no good pass rush and a subpar secondary. They are going to have to face Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Phillip Rivers to get to the Super Bowl.

I feel like passing on Lamarr Houston was a missed opportunity.

 

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