INDIANAPOLIS –When the free agency bell rang last March 13, the Colts broke quickly and signed six unrestricted free agents, a number that swelled twice more the next day.
By April 1, the Colts had added 11 total veteran free agents, and Indianapolis did not stop there. It added Ahmad Bradshaw in June, an off-season spree that accounted for about $140 million in contracts.
With the start of free agency looming on March 11 and with 18 veterans set to become unrestricted, this year's approach quite likely will be different. Causing it to be so are other factors down the road, namely members of the 2012 draft class.
"It's not hard to tighten your belt when you're looking at what we're looking at in '15 and '16," said Ryan Grigson on Friday. "In future years, we have some key young talent – you know who they are – that we're going to have to resign. We have to be very prudent and fiscally sound in how we move forward."
This year's household names who are in play include Antoine Bethea, Donald Brown, Vontae Davis, Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri.
Budding stars T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen ("The guy's a beast," said Grigson.) will need addressing soon, as will Andrew Luck.
Luck's next contract could be one of the most lucrative ever signed by a Colt, based on recent veteran quarterback signings and with Cam Newton due to get a new deal in the near future.
Grigson said after last season the club would be smart during its forward thinking, not wanting to "hamstring" itself and losing key roster components.
"I have very smart people around me that remind me, including our owner," said Grigson. "We'll be smart, and we'll make sure we keep our best players here as best we can."
When Grigson and Chuck Pagano joined the Colts in January 2012, the roster's financial situation was difficult and it took a period to get corrected.
Some estimates have the Colts with the league's second-most cap space in 2014 (approximately in the $35 million neighborhood), but widespread additions may not be in the thinking.
"We still have a plan in place and if there's a chance for us to get better at any position, we're going to try to get better, if it makes sense from a fiscal standpoint," said Grigson.
Tackle Gosder Cherilus was a solid addition last year. Matt Hasselbeck was a valuable insurance policy and veteran presence.
Grigson saw some of his additions beset with injuries. Guard Donald Thomas was lost after three games, Bradshaw's year ended quickly with a neck injury and Lawrence Sidbury was hurt prior to the season.
He saw promise in others who fought ailments.
"We're really optimistic about our guys from last year, specifically (LaRon) Landry. Before he got hurt, was leading the league in tackles," said Grigson. "He was all over the place and came in and made some key plays in key games. He's got to be more comfortable in this defense. He's got to make that commitment this offseason, and he's going to, to be the player we know he can be.
"Ricky Jean (Francois) had a few sacks, a good game against Denver, and then he came back at the end of the year and was playing on one leg. That's out of our control, same with (Greg) Toler (who missed seven late-season games with a groin injury). At least those flashes are there. Those guys need to turn those flashes into consistency. That's what we're looking for. We need guys to be out there for 16 games."
It is not a period of gloom-and-doom. Grigson's program has taken flight with consecutive playoff appearances, venturing deeper into the playoffs in 2013 than 2012.
Stewarding a program is part of his turf. The club has five picks in the upcoming draft, and he has cautioned not to sell short the chance of activity in May's selection process.
He said also the team would not be dormant in free agency if opportunities are there.
"Collectively, every year's different, just like the draft," said Grigson. "Free agency kind of mirrors the draft. We have our pro scouts and guys digging. We're just diligent making sure we unearth everybody. If there's a guy still sitting out there after four weeks that we thought would be swooped up in a week, that's a guy we're going to go get."