What the Indianapolis Colts accomplished last season — posting an 11-5 record and earning an AFC wild-card berth with a young team plus having that kind of success without its head coach on the sidelines for 12 games — didn’t go unnoticed by players around the NFL.
That was especially true for the five veteran free agents who were added to the Colts’ roster Tuesday. Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (Detroit), cornerback Greg Toler (Arizona), outside linebacker Erik Walden (Green Bay), offensive guard Donald Thomas (New England) and linebacker Lawrence Sidbury (Atlanta) admitted as much Wednesday.
“I felt like this would be the best fit for me at this point in my career. I really liked what I saw was happening with the program here and the way things have taken shape. I feel like we have a really great team here and it’s on the rise. I really wanted to be a part of that,” Thomas said during a teleconference interview with the Colts’ media.
Toler, who is friends with Indianapolis cornerback Vontae Davis and free safety Antoine Bethea, concurred.
“Honestly the push that they had last year. Just how the team just gathered together and just winning games when people thought they had a young team so they weren’t going to win as many games. Somehow they just turned it around and just came together,” the former Cardinals defensive back said.
“Just speaking with some of the guys, I know a few of the guys that are currently on the team — Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis — and I kind of know their character. And I said, ‘Man, that might be my type of family over there.’ They care about their players, they work hard, you know they don’t slack up at all, but they expect you to be professional and accountable at all times. I feel as though I could bring that to the table and just come in here and like I said, work hard and keep my nose to the grind.”
Cherilis, meanwhile, got a close-up view of the Colts last season at Ford Field in Detroit. Indianapolis rallied in the second half for a 35-33 win against the Lions, scoring the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.
“[The Colts] were walking out of the sideline extremely excited and it wasn’t enough. It was like boom and they came back and it was like touchdown. And boom we’re offsides. And my head was raised, but we didn’t get [a key first down],” he recalled.
“I don’t know if you guys have this shot, but I was on my knees praying because I knew [the Colts rally] was going to happen. It was a great comeback. They put their whole hearts in the way they play, the way they did things, even when they were down they had this whole swagger to them. Like ‘Hey we’ve been there before, we know we can do it and we know who we’re doing it for.’ At the end, it was pretty amazing.”
For guys like Walden, Thomas and Sidbury, coming to Indianapolis provides an opportunity to better showcase their talents.
“I’m a hard worker. I haven’t had the glorified roles, so to speak. Everything that I’ve gotten so far in this league I’ve earned. I’ve had my setbacks and my injuries. What player hasn’t? But I’ve bounced back from them and I’ve tried to capitalize on what God-given abilities I do have,” the former Patriots offensive lineman explained.
“I pride myself on being a quality offensive lineman and run blocking and pass protecting and opening up holes and protecting the quarterback is the name of the game. That’s truly the thing that I really pride my game on.”
Walden and Sidbury were backups with their previous teams.
“I feel like it is definitely the perfect time [to go to a new team]. I felt like my role was a little held back in Green Bay. [It] always was like a little tag along. Now I’m walking taller where I can just take over and take charge and be the man. That’s what I plan on doing.,” the former Packers linebacker said.
“That’s kind of the pressure and the accountability I’m putting on myself to just raise your level of play to be better, not just be complacent and satisfied, be the best player you can be week-in and week-out and make sure your production is there and you’re holding yourself accountable and not letting your teammates down.”
Sidbury had limited playing time with the Falcons and worked primarily in a 4-3 scheme. Now he’ll have to make the transition to a 3-4 alignment.
“First and foremost, I feel wanted [by the Colts]. It’s always a good situation when I’ll come here because they want me to be here. I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s a young team and they had a lot of success and I just wanted to come be a part of it and help these guys win, do great things,” he noted.
“My Atlanta days are over and done with and I want to get the opportunity to help this team win and help get after the quarterback and come play in this defense. Like I said, they want me here, so obviously my opportunity is going to come here.”
• Waiting to hear — New York Jets safety LaRon Landry spent Wednesday visiting the Colts complex and meeting with the team’s player personnel department and coaching staff.
Landry, who plays strong safety, had not agreed to a deal with Indianapolis by early Wednesday evening. He was scheduled to visit with the San Francisco 49ers today. The 49ers, though, were reportedly close to signing safety Charles Woodson.
San Francisco defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois visited with Philadelphia officials Wednesday and left without agreeing to a deal. Francois is due in Indianapolis today.
The Colts reportedly made a run at New England wide receiver Wes Welker, who eventually signed a two-year deal with Denver. Indianapolis ended its flirtation with Detroit outside linebacker/defensive end Cliff Avril. The former Purdue standout agreed to terms with Seattle Wednesday evening.
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed is visiting the Houston Texans today and is planning on making a trip to Indianapolis sometime this week. Reed may also talk with San Francisco officials.
• Butler returns — Cornerback Darius Butler signed a two-year contract with the Colts Tuesday and will remain with the team.
Butler was an unrestricted free agent. He was added to the Indianapolis roster midway through last season and made an immediate impact. He led the Colts with four interceptions
• Moving on — Four former Colts players signed with new teams on Wednesday. Wide receiver Donnie Avery agreed on a deal with Kansas City. Cornerback Jerraud Powers and quarterback Drew Stanton both signed with Arizona, where they will reunite with former Indianapolis offensive coordinator/interim coach Bruce Arians.
Inside linebacker Moise Fokou also inked a deal with the Tennessee Titans. Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney and wide receiver Austin Collie have yet to sign with a new team.
• Indiana State flavor — St. Louis released safety Quintin Mikell on Monday but he has yet to sign with a new team.
Mikell, who grew up in Terre Haute, is the son of former Indiana State linebacker Quintin Mikell. There was speculation that the Colts may be interested in brining him in for a visit. Mikell began his NFL career in Philadelphia and is familiar with Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson.
The Pittsburgh Steelers added quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to their roster Wednesday. Gradkowski is the nephew of former Sycamores offensive guard Mark Gradkowski.