INDIANAPOLIS — Patience has (hopefully) paid off again for general manager Chris Ballard and the Indianapolis Colts.
Free agency began about a month ago, and Ballard sat back, watched and waited as the initial flurry of signings took place knowing his team lacked a starting cornerback.
The general manager finally addressed that need with the addition of five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore on Friday.
That was basically the same thing Ballard did prior to trading for quarterback Matt Ryan last month.
It’s not the approach some of the team’s fan base likes, but Ballard is a believer in being methodical when it comes to attacking free agency.
“There could be — it would have to be at the right price because we don’t have much cap room — an addition that excites some, but we’ll see,” owner Jim Irsay told reporters during the NFL’s owners meeting in March. “It’s possible. I know Chris Ballard is looking hard at that. Trying to find the right individual, it has to be the right guy at the right number.”
For as much as quarterback, receiver and pass-rusher were positions of need at the start of free agency, cornerback, maybe not as big as the others, was also something the Colts had to address. That’s because they parted ways with their starting outside cornerbacks from last season. The Colts traded Rock Ya-Sin to the Las Vegas Raiders for pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue and veteran Xavier Rhodes remains unsigned.
Gilmore, possibly by default, will step in and be the Colts’ top cornerback on new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit that also features Ngakoue, cornerback Kenny Moore II, linebacker Darius Leonard and defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Kwity Paye. The Colts also recently signed veteran safety Rodney McLeod, who has started the last 123 games that he’s appeared in.
But just like with Ryan, the biggest question mark with Gilmore is how much does he have left in the tank when it comes to playing at an All-Pro level?
The Colts aren’t bringing in the Stephon Gilmore from 2019 when he was locking down opposing receivers on his way to winning the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year that season. They signed a player who will be 32 in September and hasn’t played a full season since 2019.
Gilmore tore his quad late in the 2020 season, which caused him to miss the start of the 2021 season with the New England Patriots — who traded him to the Carolina Panthers in October before he made his season debut on Halloween. Opposing quarterbacks completed 68% of their pass attempts when Gilmore was the primary defender last season.
The Colts would ideally like it if Gilmore, whose press-coverage skills fit Bradley’s approach, could contribute on the field and inside a locker room that doesn’t have a lot of experience returning at that position. Prior to agreeing to terms with Gilmore, Isaiah Rodgers (one start) and Brandon Facyson (13 starts) would have been the starters.
The Colts will be in a favorable position if Gilmore can play anywhere near a Pro Bowl level next season, because that will give Ngakoue, Buckner and the rest of the defensive line time to get to the quarterback. If not, Gilmore will be more of a name who is on the decline of his career that the Colts rewarded with a two-year contract.