INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts went for the splash when it came to free agency last year. They were the offseason darlings to some because the Colts added players who they believed would be good enough to get them over the hump and to the Super Bowl. To others, the Colts' moves were head-scratchers, adding players who were in their 30s and past their prime such as Andre Johnson, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans.
It turns out the latter group was right because those moves blew up in the team's face.
And as the Colts prepare for the start of free agency on March 15, owner Jim Irsay said they wouldn't take the same approach this year.
“Obviously last year was unusual in terms of the type of excitement that went on, the type of offensive guys that were playmakers and virtually Hall of Fame-type of guys, potential Pro Bowl guys in the past,” Irsay said. “There’s going to be some key guys we’re going to have to identify that you get for the right price .… This isn’t the same type of cap room. 2013, '14, '15, we were decent and had some room. This is going to be a little more difficult.”
The first step for the Colts is deciding which of their 12 free agents they want to re-sign and then they'll look at free agents on the outside to determine which positions to address. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman, kicker Adam Vinatieri and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are Indianapolis' most notable free agents.
"If we can fill some needs, get a key starter or get someone that’s a key backup," Irsay said. "... The first priority is keeping our own, the ones that we identify as being really important to the team. I’ve always felt keeping your own guys is even more important than who you get in free agency."
A key, according to Irsay, will be building through the draft over the next couple of years because the Colts will have a lot of money tied up with players such as receiver T.Y. Hilton, left tackle Anthony Castonzo and quarterback Andrew Luck, whom they plan to give a contract extension expected to be worth more than $100 million.
“The draft is where we’re really going to get better," Irsay said. "I think over the next two drafts, continue to identify guys, particularly defensively, that are going to be key guys going forward.”
In order for that to happen, general manager Ryan Grigson has to continue to improve with his picks because his draft selections have been a mixed bag outside of the 2012 class that featured Luck, Hilton, Fleener and Allen.
The Colts’ 2013 first-round pick, linebacker Bjoern Werner, hasn’t worked out. He was relegated to being inactive or on special teams most of this season. The rest of the players in that draft class either are no longer on the roster or they haven’t developed the way they should have.
The Colts didn’t have a first-round pick in 2014 because of the Trent Richardson trade with Cleveland, but offensive lineman Jack Mewhort and receiver Donte Moncrief have been key contributors. The 2015 draft was Grigson’s second-best class because he selected starters David Parry and Henry Anderson for the defensive line and future starter Clayton Geathers at safety. There’s also high hope for receiver Phillip Dorsett and cornerback D’Joun Smith.