News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 13, 2013

Colts sign five free agents, filling needs at offensive line, cornerback

Tom James
The Tribune-Star

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts were a busy team on the opening day of the National Football League’s veteran free agent market, which got underway at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

While much of the attention around the NFL was centered on several of the marquee signings that occurred, led by the departure of two key members of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl winning defense (defensive end Paul Kruger to Cleveland and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to Miami), the Colts opted to go a different route.

After allowing the initial rush of signings to get completed, Indianapolis officials proceeded to announce the addition of five new players — offensive tackle Gosder Cherlis from Detroit, offensive guard Donald Thomas from New England, cornerback Greg Toler from Arizona, defensive end/linebacker Lawrence Sidbury from Atlanta and outside linebacker Erik Walden from Green Bay.

Big names? No. Players with a chance to contribute early? Yes. Cherilis, Thomas and Toler are all expected to earn starting roles. Walden and Sidbury, meanwhile, will be in the mix for work with the first-tram defense.

And more potential signings are expected today. Safety LaRon Landry (New York Jets) is scheduled to meet with Indianapolis officials and could make a decision by this afternoon. The Colts have also showed interest in Detroit defensive end/outside linebacker Cliff Avril and San Francisco defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.

Francois was scheduled to visit with the Philadelphia Eagles today and then travel on to Indianapolis if a deal with the Eagles hadn’t occurred. Avril, who played at Purdue, had not signed as of early Tuesday evening and might still be in the mix.

“Chuck and I have a vision and we want players who love the game, play snap-to-whistle and do all of the little things to achieve greatness,” said General Manager Ryan Grigson said in a prepared statement that was released Tuesday evening. “Those traits are prevalent in all of the players we signed today. They love the game and play at a high level.

“They are team players and their focus is to dominate the person across from them every snap. That showed in the film and we agreed as a staff that these guys fit the mold of what we are trying to accomplish here. At the end of the day, we wanted players who would mesh well with our current roster and with one another. We feel these guys undoubtedly fit that style.”

If early reports are correct, Walden — who was reportedly signed to a four-year, $16 million deal — might be given the opportunity to replace former Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney. A sixth-round draft pick by Dallas in 2008, the Dublin, Ga. native has played for Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and the Packers.

Walden started two games last season and had 20 tackles in nine games. He was named as the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Chicago on Jan. 2, registering 16 tackles and had three quarterback sacks.

The additions of Cherilis, Thomas and Toler fill major needs for the Colts on the offensive line and at cornerback. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Cherilis spent five seasons with Detroit after being a first-round pick in 2008. He is slated to take over at right offensive tackle, replacing Winston Justice, and teaming with a former Boston College teammate, left offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo.

Cherilis underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in December of 2010. He appeared in 75 of 80 possible regular-season games with Detroit.

Thomas, meanwhile, was a sixth-round pick by Miami in 2008. He has played with the Dolphins, Lions and Patriots before signing with Indianapolis. He has started 21 of the 43 NFL games in which he has played.

Toler, meanwhile, was a fourth-round draft pick by Arizona in 2009. He played collegiately at St. Paul’s College (Va.).

Though a small-school player, the 6-0, 190-pound defensive back — who reportedly signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Colts — impressed during his four seasons with the Cardinals. He is expected to replace cornerback Jerraud Powers, who was not re-signed by Indianapolis. Powers is slated to visit Arizona today and San Diego on Thursday.