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COLUMN

Colts free agents deliver a dose of intrigue

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

It'll be fun to see if Landry boosts secondary to elite level

Saturday, March 23, 2013 - 3:58 am

Barring the addition of a wide receiver, as hinted at during owner Jim Irsay's renewed enthusiasm for Twitter (alas, without Tom Petty song lyrics), the Indianapolis Colts are finished with the biggest spending of free agency.

I'm not going to grade the signings because past success or failure only hints at similar results moving forward. Some free agents soar. Some flop. If you own a working crystal ball, please tell me if outside linebacker Erik Walden is headed for a breakout season or won't even beat out Jerry Hughes.

Here's how I'd rank the Colts' free agent signings in terms of intrigue:

1. LaRon Landry, safety. The Colts haven't had the game-altering safety since Bob Sanders limped off the field for the last time. Landry can be that player. He had a great season for the New York Jets last season and Rex Ryan was recently quoted about how much he's going to miss Landry's play. If he plays well, Landry could be the vintage Ed Reed of the Colts' Ravens-style defense.

2. Matt Hasselbeck, quarterback. He's only going to play in the dreaded worst-case scenario. That's fine. But he can bring a coach-on-the-field demeanor with the ability to show, not just tell, how it's done. Andrew Luck learned plenty in his rookie season. (Lesson 1: Protection would be really helpful.) He can still learn much more, and Hasselbeck's experience and demeanor could help Luck soar more in Year 2.

3. Erik Walden, outside linebacker. No signing caused more debate among Colts followers who spend 16 hours a day online. The Colts signed Walden to a lucrative deal (4 years, $16 million) despite having only nine career sacks. Most fans would have preferred a big name like Cliff Avril, but Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson marches to the beat of his own scouting drum. (This may be why Irsay likes him so much.)

4. Greg Toler, cornerback. The Vontae Davis deal seemed to work out well toward the end of the season when he was healthy and acclimated to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's system. Toler is another potentially big-play, hard-hitting corner who can man the opposite side from Davis. With Landry and returnee Antoine Bethea, it seems the Colts secondary has stepped up a couple notches.

5. Gosder Cherilus, offensive tackle. Cherilus spent a lot of time starting and playing for the Detroit Lions, protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford while he racked up the passing yardage. He's 6-foot-7, 325 pounds and experienced. Along with guard Donald Thomas, the hope is Cherilus will upgrade the Colts' line and maybe give Luck a little more time. Any time, incidentally, would be a little more.

6. Ricky Jean Francois, defensive tackle. He's never been a regular starter, so the hunger should be there. He can play all three defensive line positions in the 3-4 system, so he should be versatile. The Colts are paying him starter's money (4 years, $22 million) so he needs to step up and deliver. The defensive line is pivotal to stopping the run, but also allowing the likes of Robert Mathis and, theoretically, Walden to pester the quarterback.

7. Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle. He's touted as a major run stopper, but this will also be his fourth team in four years after a longer stint with the San Francisco 49ers. He started nine games for the Chargers last season with 20 tackles. Maybe he's coming in simply for defensive line depth. The Colts have upped their size and the 317-pound Franklin is part of it.

8. Donald Thomas, guard. Thomas played for the New England Patriots, so he has some real understanding of the value of protecting a quarterback. He should also know run blocking, which is another area where the Colts need to improve.

9. Lawrence Sidbury, linebacker. He's still looking for his niche in the NFL, but has played for the Atlanta Falcons, so he understands winning. That's a key.

Now, when's the new wide receiver arriving?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com