INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe the Indianapolis Colts didn’t burn through cash like the Jacksonville Jaguars did in the first few days of free agency, or max out their credit cards like the Los Angeles Rams or Green Bay Packers. Key items remain on the shopping list heading into the NFL draft in two weeks.
But Indianapolis has now made three big investments at critical positions, the latest coming in the form of a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback in arguably the most aggressive offseason of Chris Ballard’s tenure as general manager.
The Colts have agreed to terms with Stephon Gilmore, a person with knowledge of the deal confirmed to the USA TODAY Network on Friday, locking up the former Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers star after bringing him in for a visit. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because it was not yet official.
Gilmore, arguably the biggest name still available, is the sort of splash Indianapolis has typically been careful about making in free agency.
“If an opportunity presents itself we think is good, we think we’re getting a good player at a value we think is the right price, then we’ll do it,” Ballard said at the NFL scouting combine. “Even if you have to overpay a little bit, I’m OK with that.”
Flush with salary cap space again, Indianapolis waited patiently to make its splash in free agency.
The Colts were busy addressing the two needs Ballard identified as critical early this offseason through a trio of blockbuster trades.
“Our passing game has to be better, and on defense, we have to be able to rush the passer better,” Ballard said. “It’s a passing league.”
The offensive domino fell when the Colts traded starting quarterback Carson Wentz to Washington, beginning a waiting game that ultimately led to a trade for Falcons legend Matt Ryan.
Ballard had to give up a piece he liked to address the team’s biggest need on the defensive side of the ball. While Indianapolis waited out the after-effects of the Deshaun Watson decision, the Colts traded promising young cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to the Las Vegas Raiders in order to get proven edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, a move that addressed a perpetual defensive need but opened another in the secondary.
Gilmore instantly fills that hole.
The 31-year-old Gilmore is two years and a torn quadriceps removed from winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2019, but once he got healthy with Carolina in 2021, Gilmore was back to form again.
In eight games with the Panthers, Gilmore allowed opponents to complete just 43.8% of their passes for 4.1 yards per attempt, picked off two passes and didn’t give up a touchdown, according to Sports Info Solutions.
The presence of Gilmore also gives the Colts four cornerbacks capable of starting, joining Pro Bowler Kenny Moore, rising third-year cover man Isaiah Rodgers and former Raider Brandon Facyson, the first outsider Ballard signed in free agency this season.
Indianapolis has also made a couple of signings to shore up the safety position, agreeing to terms with long-time Eagles stalwart Rodney McLeod and signing former Chief Armani Watts to fill the opening left by George Odum. The Colts also signed long-time Patriots special teamer Brandon King, filling a spot left open by the departure of Matthew Adams to Chicago.
Those three moves, plus the big move for Gilmore, have come in the last two weeks, making good on Ballard’s promise at the NFL’s annual owner’s meetings in Florida that he was planning to address some of the holes on the roster in free agency.
“There’s still some pretty good players on the market,” Ballard said. “I think you’ll see that come to fruition here over the next few weeks.”
Now that Gilmore’s in the fold, Indianapolis has patiently put together the splashiest offseason of Ballard’s tenure, even if it didn’t always feel that way. By adding Ryan, Ngakoue and Gilmore, the Colts have made a trio of moves that eerily mirror the 2020 offseason that produced Philip Rivers, DeForest Buckner and Xavier Rhodes.
Indianapolis still has needs to fill.
The Colts remain thin at wide receiver, tight end and on the offensive line, and they likely need to add another rotational piece or two on the defensive line. Indianapolis will almost certainly fill a lot of those holes in the NFL draft.
But the Colts have delivered on the change Ballard promised at the combine, even if he’s likely never going to go on the freewheeling spending sprees that happen in other NFL cities.
“Improvements have to be made, and that’s across the board,” Ballard said at the time. “I don’t want to just single out the QB position, there’s other spots too. There are other spots we have to actively improve upon between now and September.”
The Gilmore signing shows the Colts are still hard at work on those spots.
Even if it sometimes takes a while.