INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts aren't reliant on free agency to build their team, but they do use it to supplement the weak spots on their roster. According to Spotrac, the Colts did a better job than any team this offseason in doing just that.
On Friday, Spotrac put out their grades for notable free agent signings by each team this year by identifying "all free agent contracts of at least $2M from each team, assessing a 'Value Level' for each based on $ vs. production."
Again, the Colts aren't one to make splashy free agent signings — unless for the right price and circumstance — but the moves that they do execute, they tend to make them count. Per Spotrac:
"By far one of the most successful free agent classes in the league, the Colts took a few low-risk moves on bringing in (Eric) Ebron & (Ryan) Grant to add weapons for (Andrew) Luck, and both have been effective. Denico Autry has been one of the more productive edge defenders in the game, and Matt Slauson has been another positive piece to a finally improved offensive line."
The Colts were assessed a grade of 2.6, tops among all 32 teams. They were graded on the contracts given to defensive lineman Denico Autry, cornerback Pierre Desir, tight end Eric Ebron, wide receiver Ryan Grant, tackle Austin Howard and offensive lineman Matt Slauson — all of whom are or were starters at some points this year.
Spotrac considered the signings of Autry, Desir and Slauson "excellent," while Ebron and Grant's deals were "average." Howard's signing was essentially considered void since he did not make the opening day roster.
Autry — initially signed to unleash his disruptive nature in a versatile way — has been able to show glimpses of that in the four games that injuries have limited him to. He is credited with 2.0 sacks and five tackles for loss so far, moving around the defensive line from tackle to end. If he can stay healthy in the second half of the season, then he could prove to be an issue for quarterbacks to deal with, as he can bring pressure from the inside and outside and get his hands into passing lanes.
Desir has been arguably the Colts' most reliable cornerback, playing 405 snaps and often matching up with the opponent's top outside receiver. He has quietly been a stat sheet stuffer this year — compiling 38 tackles (one for loss), one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and four pass breakups — and the Colts got him for a bargain on a one-year deal.
Anyone who has watched the Colts this year knows that Ebron has probably been the most notable signing, as he currently leads all NFL tight ends in touchdowns (seven). The Colts have been able to use him wherever they want in the offensive formation, and he has proven to be the matchup nightmare they hoped he'd be. However, what may have stopped Spotrac from considering Ebron's deal "excellent" is the fact he only plays in 31 percent of offensive snaps when fellow tight end Jack Doyle is active. Regardless, it's all according to plan and hasn't hindered Ebron's productivity.
Grant has provided exactly what was expected when he signed this offseason — reliable hands and the ability to move the chains. He has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but when he's in the game, he has proven to be a player that Andrew Luck can look for to make a play. Of his 26 receptions, 57.7 percent have resulted in first downs.
Howard was initially signed to add competition at right tackle for the Colts at training camp. They had some returning candidates, and Howard was widely considered a safe option. When the preseason began, Howard had some struggles, and he did not make it onto the 53-man roster for the regular season.
Slauson turned out to be an outstanding acquisition, both from a leadership and an on-field performance standpoint. Through the first five games, he was a quality option at right guard. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 when he broke two vertebrae in his back. Slauson didn't go away, though, evolving from "Colts starting right guard" to "Coach Slauson." He was initially brought in to be a leader to the Colts' incoming youth movement on the line, and now that he's unable to play, he is taking on much more of a teaching/coaching role with the young guns like Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith and Mark Glowinski.