INDIANAPOLIS — You’ve likely seen the reports and heard the rumors.
Now it all starts to become official.
After two days of the league’s “legal tampering” period to start the week, the NFL’s free agency period officially gets underway today at 4 p.m. ET.
So what can we expect from the Indianapolis Colts when free agency begins? Here’s your official primer:
How active will the Colts be?
Two years ago, the Colts, with a first-year general manager in Chris Ballard, had their most active free agency period in team history.
But with the roster steadily being built more to his liking, Ballard has since taken a more deliberate approach.
Last year, the Colts were reportedly involved in talks with some of the top free agents on the market, but when those players’ demands exceeded what the team had determined was their actual value, Ballard was perfectly content with backing out and finding other solutions.
Instead, the team made a few key value signings; guys like defensive lineman Denico Autry, tight end Eric Ebron, wide receiver Ryan Grant and guard/center Matt Slauson. The Colts followed that up by turning in perhaps their most successful draft class in franchise history, selecting two eventual First-Team All-Pros in guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard, while also taking several other key contributors.
So what’s the approach this year?
Many outsiders have pointed to the fact that the Colts have the most available cap space in the league — more than $100 million worth — as a clear indicator that the team will be more willing to spend big money on some of the more notable names out there in free agency.
Not so fast.
Ballard has pledged to stay true to his free agency approach from a year ago, in which patience and scheme fit remain critical. Besides, the team is hoping to spend a lot of that cap money on new contracts for players already on its roster.
In other words: don’t expect the 4 p.m. ET start of free agency to open the floodgates as it pertains to official team news.
Who are the Colts’ free agents?
The Colts entered the 2019 offseason with 23 total free agents-to-be (15 unrestricted, six restricted and two exclusive rights).
But the team has since reached new deals with five of those players (three unrestricted and two restricted), bringing that number down to 18 (with a caveat that we’ll explain below).
The Colts’ 11 unrestricted free agents-to-be are:
• Cornerback Pierre Desir
• Safety Clayton Geathers
• Linebacker Najee Goode
• Wide receiver Ryan Grant
• Defensive end Geneo Grissom
• Tight end Ryan Hewitt
• Wide receiver Dontrelle Inman
• Safety Mike Mitchell
• Tackle J’Marcus Webb
• Safety J.J. Wilcox
• Defensive tackle Al Woods
The Colts’ four restricted free agents-to-be are:
• Center/guard Evan Boehm
• Safety Matthias Farley
• Safety Corey Moore
• Wide receiver Chester Rogers
The Colts’ two exclusive rights free agents are:
• Wide receiver Marcus Johnson
• Long snapper Luke Rhodes
All 11 unrestricted free agents are free to sign with any team once 4 p.m. ET hits today.
The restricted and exclusive rights free agents are a little bit tricker.
The Colts this week placed tenders on three of their restricted free agents (Boehm, Farley and Rogers) and both of their exclusive rights free agents (Johnson and Rhodes).
For all five players, that essentially means they have been given one-year deals to return to the team in 2019. But the restricted players are free to take contract offers from other teams, and if they sign an offer sheet elsewhere, the Colts have up to seven days to match it. If the Colts decide against matching the other offer, then they will be compensated in the form of a draft pick from the player’s new team. The round and quantity of picks would be determined by the “qualifying offer" made by the Colts. If an RFA is tendered a minimum qualifying offer, the compensation is the equivalent of the round in which that player was originally selected. If that player was originally a rookie free agent, no compensation is awarded.
It’s a little bit simpler for Johnson and Rhodes, however. Because they’re exclusive rights free agents who were tendered before 4 p.m. today, both players are officially under the Colts’ control for the 2019 season. They will either sign their tenders and return to the team, or have to sit out the season.
Will the Colts re-sign any other free agents?
Ballard has been asked specifically about the likes of Desir, Geathers and Inman, and said that while the team would like to see all three return in 2019, that they would likely be allowed to test the market first.
But several other players on that list could very well return to Indy for this upcoming season, so stay tuned.
Where can I stay up to date on all the Colts’ moves?
The Colts Free Agent Tracker makes its triumphant return to Colts.com once free agency begins. We’ll have all the updated information on the Colts’ free agents, as well as the players signed from other teams.
We’ll have a link to the Free Agent Tracker once it’s up.