Colts add DL Jean Francois to list of new players
The Indianapolis Colts are on a defensive spending spree.
Less than 24 hours after adding Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry to the roster, the Colts struck two more deals, this time landing San Francisco defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and re-signing cornerback Darius Butler. Terms of the deals were not immediately available.
The latest moves are intended to help revamp a traditionally undersized defense that has played a secondary role to quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and the offense over the 15 seasons. Now, suddenly, the Colts are getting bigger, stronger and deeper, enough to convince Francois this was the team he wanted to be with.
''The Colts have always been known for their offense, but sometime we've got to change the trend and become a defensive team, too,'' Francois told reporters on a hastily arranged conference call Thursday. ''They're getting a versatile player, a big dude that can do just about anything you want him to do besides punt and kick field goals.''
Indy is certainly making headway in changing its defensive image after using its first four draft picks last April exclusively on offense - taking Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and receiver T.Y. Hilton - and then bringing in three new starting offensive linemen during the offseason.
This offseason started in the same fashion. The Colts immediately signed right tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas to big deals to help protect Luck. Cherilus' contract is for five years and $35 million with a $10 million signing bonus and $16.5 million guaranteed. Thomas' deal is reportedly for four years and $14 million.
Since then, the Colts have been fixated exclusively on defense.
They signed cornerback linebacker Lawrence Sidbury, cornerback Greg Toler and linebacker Erik Walden on Tuesday. Late Wednesday night, they agreed to a four-year deal worth $24 million, with $14 million guaranteed, to get the big-hitting Landry.
And now they've added Francois, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive lineman who some believed was the only free agent capable of playing all three defensive line positions in the 3-4 defense Indianapolis switched to last season. That wasn't the only reason he picked Indy. Francois is a Miami native, where coach Chuck Pagano coached in college and where receiver Reggie Wayne works out during the offseason, and he's played previously for Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
''I talked to Manusky, a guy that coached me when I first got into the league. He gave me my first shot. Me and him were laughing a majority of the time. Drake Nevis, it was good to see him once again and to be playing beside him again,'' Francois said of his former college teammate at LSU. ''And Coach (Pagano), I loved him just talking to him and hearing what he was saying, it was like I already knew who he was because he coached down at Miami and he knew a lot of the things I already knew.''
How have the Colts done all this?
They went into free agency about $40 million under the salary cap, and general manager Ryan Grigson made it clear he didn't want high-priced, older, big-name players. Instead he opted to stay true to his mission - keeping the Colts young and bringing in players who were better fits in the new system.
Jim Irsay, who has never been shy about spending money but has never made this big a splash in free agency since replacing his late father as team owner, gave Grigson the latitude to do whatever he thought necessary.
Francois comes to Indy after making a career-high 51 tackles for the 49ers last season and recording both of his sacks in San Francisco's final three regular-season games.
''Ricky is a quick, aggressive and extremely powerful player,'' Grigson said in a statement released by the team. ''He has been a mainstay the last four years within a dominant NFL defense with a lot of special players. He not only has familiarity with our scheme, but he is versatile enough to play any of our defensive line positions. At 26 years old, we feel the arrow is pointing straight up and we're looking forward to him making a big impact for us this coming season.''
Butler was New England's second-round pick in 2009 and joined the Colts in September as a free agent.
He wound up playing in 11 games, making four starts, picking off a career-high four interceptions and returning two for touchdowns. He will likely be in a backup role behind Vontae Davis, the former first-round pick Indy got in a trade with Miami just before last season's opening game, and the recently signed Toler.
And Francois likes the way things are shaping up in Indy.
''Yeah, you could say that basically this is a new start,'' Francois said. ''Because like everybody will get in on time and sit down and talk to each other and basically get a relationship going on and get a bond going on. Because the biggest thing is you want everyone is to become a family. There's going to be new faces around here but you want to become a family real quick. That's how teams become successful.''