INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts wasted no time spending their extra money in free agency.
Less than two hours after the market officially opened Tuesday, the Colts had agreements in principle with five players: offensive linemen Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas, cornerback Greg Toler, and linebackers Lawrence Sidbury and Erik Walden.
The team did not release terms.
It was Indianapolis’ biggest first-day foray into free agency in more than a decade, and while the names may have been a surprise, the moves certainly were not.
Team owner Jim Irsay, coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson all acknowledged after last season that the Colts needed more protection for quarterback Andrew Luck.
Pagano still wanted more help in the defensive front seven to continue making the transition to his 3-4 defense, and the Colts were looking for reinforcements in the secondary, too.
At $40 million under the salary cap, the Colts started fast.
It only took an hour and 15 minutes, so yeah, it went pretty quickly, said Gregory Diulus, Cherilus’ agent. We had several others (interested teams), but this is a place where he really told me in advance that he wanted to go, so we were glad they got it done.
All five of the players headed to Indianapolis are either 27 or 28 years old, have a proven track record in the league and have playoff experience, too.
Cherilus has been an anchor on the Lions’ offensive line since being taken in the middle of the first round in 2008. Over the last five seasons, he started 71 of 80 possible games, played in 75 and was on the field at right tackle for every snap but one last season. He left for one play after losing a shoe.
That allows Cherilus, a 6-foot-7, 325-pound tackle, to team with another Boston College alum – left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the Colts’ first-round pick in 2011 – and center Samson Satele, who signed a three-year, $10.8 million deal in free agency last season to give quarterback Andrew Luck more protection.
Luck was sacked 41 times last season and hit dozens more times.
Adding the 6-4, 305-pound Thomas at guard could help firm up the interior line, too. Thomas, Miami’s sixth-round pick in 2008, has started 21 career games including 12 last season with New England and will now work with right guard Mike McGlynn, who played well after Grigson signed him in free agency last year.
Toler is known as a hard-hitting cornerback with a knack for man-to-man coverage – two essential ingredients in Pagano’s 3-4 defense. He comes to Indianapolis with 128 career tackles and five interceptions in 38 career games.
Walden became a key player for the Packers’ injury-riddled defense each of the past two seasons and at 6-2, 250 has the ideal size for Pagano’s defense.
The former sixth-round draft pick had 106 tackles, six sacks, six passes defensed and two interceptions with Green Bay in 2011 and 2012.
Sidbury, 6-3, 261, appeared in 48 games with the Atlanta Falcons and had a career-high four sacks in 2011.
In Chicago, the Bears signed tight end Martellus Bennett to a four-year contract. Bennett had career highs with 55 receptions, 626 yards and five touchdowns with the Giants.
Chicago also agreed to a five-year contract with 6-5, 315-pound left tackle Jermon Bushrod to a deal that is potentially worth about $36 million, with $17.7 million guaranteed. The Bears also said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton signed his $8.45 million franchise tender.
Baltimore lost two key components of their defense, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.
Kruger went north to division rival Cleveland for a five-year, $40 million deal, while Ellerbe headed south to Miami for $35 million over five years. Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace joined Ellerbe in choosing Miami.
The champs then signed defensive end Chris Canty.
San Francisco saw tight end Delanie Walker leave for Tennessee.
Teams also made cuts. The biggest were Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo and Nnamdi Asomugha in Philadelphia.
Earlier, Tony Gonzalez changed his mind and decided to return to the Falcons.
St. Louis reached a five-year deal with tight end Jared Cook.
Defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma agreed to restructure their contracts to remain with New Orleans.
Minnesota released 14-year veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield and re-signed right tackle Phil Loadholt.
Tennessee agreed to terms with guard Andy Levitre on a six-year deal worth nearly $47 million. The Titans waived safety Jordan Babineaux and guard Mitch Petrus.
Pittsburgh re-signed linebacker Larry Foote and receiver Plaxico Burress and tendered offers to four restricted free agents: receiver Emmanuel Sanders, running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, all of whom could be starters in 2013, and nose tackle Steve McLendon.
Denver agreed to terms with guard Louis Vasquez, late of San Diego.
Cincinnati re-signed defensive ends Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry. Geathers enters his 10th season with the Bengals, the longest tenure on the current roster.
Houston cut receiver Kevin Walter, who was due to make $2 million in salary.
Carolina cut linebacker James Anderson, who set a franchise record in 2011 with 174 tackles.
Kansas City agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with tight end Anthony Fasano, a three-year, $12.6 million contract with defensive tackle Mike DeVito, and a three-year deal with Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel.
San Diego released 11-year veteran tight end Randy McMichael; the Jets cut nose tackle Sione Po’uha and restructured the contract of receiver Santonio Holmes; Arizona re-signed safety Rashad Johnson to a three-year contract; and Oakland cut two former first-round picks, starting receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and defensive back Michael Huff.