<
>

Colts' focus so far in free agency is improvement at linebacker

A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Indianapolis Colts:

Most significant signings: Linebackers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon. Pass-rushers Robert Mathis (retired) and Trent Cole (free agent) are no longer part of the franchise. Sheard had 13 sacks in the past two seasons while with the New England Patriots. The odds of re-signing Erik Walden were not good once new general manager Chris Ballard was hired. Walden is coming off a season in which he had a career-high 11 sacks, but he’ll also be 32 years old next season during a time when the goal is to become a younger team. That’s where Simon enters the picture. He’s the leading candidate to be the Colts' starting strongside linebacker, a position that often sets the edge in stopping the run. Simon spent his first four seasons with the Houston Texans, and they gave up the fewest yards per game last season. Simon has 120 tackles and 10 sacks in his career.

Most significant loss: Safety Mike Adams. The veteran wanted to re-sign with the Colts, and he understood there was a chance that he wouldn’t start, depending on the health of Clayton Geathers and development of T.J. Green, who had an inconsistent rookie season. But the Colts decided against re-signing Adams because of their youth movement. Adams will be 36 years old later this month. The loss of Adams, though, does mean the Colts will be without the backbone of their secondary next season. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons with the team and led them in tackles last season.

Player they should have signed: The Colts aren’t officially out of the running for defensive lineman Dontari Poe, but you have to think their odds might have decreased because they couldn’t secure a deal with him when the visited the team last weekend. The Colts are in need of a defensive lineman who can get into the backfield or at least command double-teams on the line of scrimmage that open up lanes for the linebackers. Ballard and Poe have a history together. They spent the past four years together with the Kansas City Chiefs. Poe made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014.

What’s next: Ballard hasn't made a headline move so far. His moves have been about adding depth and competition to the roster. The Colts’ biggest need has been on defense, where they’ve signed three linebackers and a defensive end, and there are still more moves that need to be made on that side of the ball in free agency or the draft. The Colts still need some pass-rushers after having only 33 sacks last season, and they also are in search of a second cornerback after the Patrick Robinson experiment ended up not working out. He missed nine games last season and was released last week.

Overall grade: C. The Colts' moves to this point don’t put them back at the top of the AFC South, especially when taking into consideration the moves that Jacksonville and Tennessee have made so far. The players Ballard signed are still early in their careers and still need to prove they can make a significant impact in the NFL. This shouldn’t be surprising because Ballard isn’t taking the quick-fix approach in approving the roster. Patience is a must because the previous regime’s style of improvement didn’t pan out. Ballard’s goal is to cultivate homegrown players through the draft. This is a process that could take some time, which some might not look at as a good thing, considering that quarterback Andrew Luck is headed into his sixth season in the league.