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Thursday, July 11, 2013
Will $100 million boost the Colts, Titans?

By Paul Kuharsky

As the league year started, Ryan Grigson and Ruston Webster found themselves walking through the doorway of their team's vaults.

As they signed stacks of players, the general managers of the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, respectively, thumbed through stacks of bills.

Fans were thrilled at the action that brought guys like Gosder Cherilus, LaRon Landry and Ricky Jean Francois to the Colts and Andy Levitre, Delanie Walker and Sammie Hill to the Titans.

But as exciting as all the action was, the lessons from recent free-agent history hovered over both teams: The winners in free agency, the biggest spenders of the offseason, rarely see the anticipated improvement.

In May, John Clayton ran through teams that spent $100 million or more (the total value of deals on paper) in each offseason going back to 2007.

The average result for the last 10 teams to spend at the $100 million level: no additional wins.

No team wants to be in position where it feels it needs to add so much. Both the Colts and Titans can spell out reasons why it’ll be different for them.

“You can spend it, but there are no guarantees,” Webster said. “That’s obvious through the years. We had a rebuilding plan that we felt like we had to do. There were certain areas, like offensive line, where we felt like we had to make an effort to improve; we’d gotten older, had all the injuries.

“We had to bring in some veteran players, and what you hope is you bring in the right kind to help your team.”

Grigson and Webster made plans, targeted players and crafted deals. Both feel confident their teams will be more like the 2012 Rams (5½ more wins) and 2008 Jets (5 more, and the lone winning record on the list) than like the 2012 Saints (six fewer wins in difficult circumstances) or the 2011 Jaguars (three fewer).

The Colts and Titans spread out their spending more than many of the teams on the list, and more than this offseason's biggest spender, the Miami Dolphins, who gave receiver Mike Wallace five years and $60 million.

The 2012 Saints re-signed Drew Brees -- their own guy -- for $100 million. The 2012 Bills committed $96 million to Mario Williams. The 2012 Buccaneers spent more than $100 million on two players -- receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks. The 2007 49ers gave Nate Clements an $80 million deal. The 2011 Eagles negotiated a $60 million deal with Nnamdi Asomugha. The 2012 Rams gave Cortland Finnegan a $50 million contract. All of these players made far more than the other free agents added to those teams.

In the AFC South this year, the two big spenders appear to be more like the 2011 Jaguars, 2011 Seahawks, 2009 Broncos and 2009 Jets. They spread their big expenditures among a larger group of players.

The Colts signed six players to deals that, on paper, are worth between $14 million and $34.5 million apiece, with Cherilus as the top dog.

The Titans gave Levitre a $46.8 million deal, with three others getting contracts worth between $10 million and $17.5 million.

Both teams spent a lot on their offensive and defensive lines instead of acquiring flashy players. Many big-spending teams before them went for more star power: pass-rusher like Williams, corners like Asomugha and Clements or a receiver like Jackson.

“I think it’s having a plan for what you’re doing and knowing exactly what you need and what you are doing scheme-wise. Hopefully, that’s what we did and it helps us get over the hump,” Webster said.

“We’re trying to retool the roster, and it wasn’t two guys or three guys; we signed a lot of players. Many of them are not even big salaries.”

Can it work? Sure, though they’ll have to buck history to do it.