INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard waited patiently to make his biggest offseason splash.
On Thursday, Ballard jumped into the free agent pool and got former New York Giants defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins with a three-year deal worth $30 million and $15.9 million in guaranteed money, according to a person with direct knowledge of the contract terms. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Colts hadn’t yet announced the numbers.
If the 25-year-old meets or exceeds expectations, the Colts may — finally — have the run-stuffing anchor they need to solidify a porous defensive line.
“He’s a really good player who hasn’t had a bad year,” agent Kevin Poston told The Associated Press. “The Colts have to get younger on defense and they have, but if you can’t stuff the middle, you can’t stop the run and you don’t find too many Johnathan Hankins in the draft. You may find them in three or four years, but not in the draft.”
Discussions went on for more than a month.
When Hankins left town Tuesday without a deal, it appeared negotiations were over. They weren’t.
Poston said he and the Colts continued talking. The key was getting a three-year deal for 6-foot-2, 320-pound Ohio State product.
“It was very important for us to get a three-year deal because at 28, he’s still in his prime and we’ve got another shot at the apple,” Poston said.
There were other factors in play for Hankins, too.
He had a personal relationship with linebackers coach Jim Herrmann, who joined the Colts last season after spending the previous seven with the Giants. Hankins also was a college teammate of another free agent signee, linebacker John Simon.
And with the Colts playing a 3-4 defense, Hankins figured it was a good match.
“You’ve got to find the right fit,” Poston said. “Money is important, don’t get me wrong, but if you go with the wrong club, the wrong coach or the wrong city, you’ve got a lot of stuff.”
Ballard believes Hankins fits well, too.
After taking Hankins in the second round of the 2013 draft, he started 41 of 52 games, had 140 tackles and 10 sacks in four seasons with New York. Last season, Hankins finished with 43 tackles, three sacks, eight tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
Poston said New York wanted to re-sign Hankins but denied reports that indicated the asking price was $15 million per year or that the Giants had put a four-year deal worth $28 million on the table.
Meanwhile, in Indy, Ballard continued sticking to his plan.
During his introductory news conference Ballard told local reporters he believed in a defense-first philosophy and promised to be judicious about investing in players who fit the locker room — regardless of whether it created a public buzz.
Since then, Ballard has been extraordinarily busy.
He’s signed a dozen unrestricted free agents, primarily reasonably-priced players such as Simon and defensive end Margus Hunt, re-signed three of his own players and traded tight end Dwayne Allen to New England.
The common denominator: Getting younger, more productive players.
Most of the work has been done on the defensive side of the ball.
Ballard has added four linebackers to shore up one of the thinnest positions on the roster, and Hankins becomes the third defensive lineman to join the Colts. Hunt and nose tackle Al Woods signed in March.
But Hankins was the most pricey of the bunch and for a good reason — the Colts believe he’ll be a big part of the solution on defense.
“Johnathan is a young, productive and disruptive defensive lineman,” Ballard said in a statement issued by the team. “He possesses a wealth of experience and brings leadership to our team.”