(SportsNetwork.com) – Full disclosure laws force me to admit Michael Johnson
was my top-rated free agent available in 2014.
Of course, I was hardly the only one trumpeting the skills of the lengthy
defensive end, who cashed in by signing a monster five-year, $43.75 million
contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The reality, however, is that all NFL contracts are a series of glorified,
one-year deals and Johnson’s ballyhooed stay in Central Florida ended after
just one ineffective and injury-plagued season Wednesday when the Bucs
released the former Cincinnati Bengals star.
The moral of that story is that things that look really good on paper don’t
necessarily pan out when the bullets start flying, and history teaches the
buyer to beware in NFL free agency because Roger Goodell’s empire is no plug-
and-play league like Major League Baseball or the NBA.
The analytics crowd may not like it but chemistry is real in the ultimate team
game and plucking a star off one team and expecting similar production when
he’s on another is often fool’s gold.
That’s why those winners and losers lists you see dotting the Internet
landscape less than 24 hours after free agency started are nothing more than
click bait, encouraged by well-meaning, if uneducated young editors who are
often scared by their own shadows, especially if their Google numbers are down
a tick or two.
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t speculate on who helped themselves the most
in the opening hours of the process. To do that, though, you have to
understand what free agency is and, perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t.
The consistently, successful franchises understand you build through the draft
and make targeted strikes in free agency, chances that should increase when
you think you are close to the game’s ultimate prize, the Lombardi Trophy.
The Indianapolis Colts finished one game short of Super Bowl XLIX last season,
getting trounced in the AFC Championship Game by the New England Patriots.
No matter the score, however, that means Chuck Pagano’s club was only 60
minutes away from playing for an NFL title and Indy GM Ryan Grigson understood
it’s time to reach for the brass ring.
So far, the Colts have focused primarily on balancing the offense for Andrew
Luck, the one superstar quarterback in the NFL who is actually on his ascent
as a player.
First, Grigson reached back to his Philadelphia roots, where he began as a
regional scout before moving up the food chain to become the Eagles’ director
of player personnel from ’10-11, by signing veteran offensive lineman Todd
Herremans, a versatile player who toiled inside and outside over his 10
seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.
The veteran theme continued on Tuesday when the Colts agreed to terms with
another former Eagles star, edge rusher Trent Cole, as well as ex-49ers
running back Frank Gore.
Cole was released by Philadelphia last week, leaving the city as a two-time
Pro Bowl selection and the franchise’s runner-up in all-time sacks (85 1/2) to
the legendary Reggie White.
The 31-year-old Gore, meanwhile, had spent his entire 10-year career with San
Francisco and was a five-time Pro Bowl selection with four straight 1,000-yard
campaigns, projecting as a serious upgrade from the Colts disastrous three-
headed running attack of last season which featured the disappointing Trent
Richardson, as well as the oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw and the nondescript Dan
Gore’s old friend from his University of Miami days, wide receiver Andre
Johnson, perhaps the greatest Houston Texans player of all-time, was the
latest to join the party on Wednesday, signing a three-year deal worth $21
Johnson was released by the Texans on Monday, ending his 12-year tenure in
South Texas after hauling in a mind-numbing 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and
64 touchdowns in 169 games. The 33-year-old Johnson caught 85 passes for 936
yards and three touchdowns in 15 games last season.
“After I got released by the Texans, Frank called me,” Johnson admitted. “He
called me right after it happened and was just like, ‘What are you gonna do?’
I’m like, ‘Frank, I don’t know. I just got released. I don’t know.’ I asked,
him ‘Who do you think has the best chance to win a Super Bowl?'”
Gore and Johnson agreed the Colts had the best chance to win the big game for
one reason — luck.
No. not good luck, Andrew Luck.
“I think he’s a heck of a player,” Johnson understated. “He’s very special –
a very special player. So I’m excited, man, I can’t wait to get to work with
The Colts’ offense is now an embarrassment of riches featuring the superstar
signal caller as well as Gore, Johnson, Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton and a
couple of impactful tight ends, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
Even Duron Carter, the son of Hall of Famer Cris Carter who had been lighting
up the CFL, chose the Hoosier State as his new home, largely because of Luck.
“(Luck) was the big thing,” Johnson admitted. “I wanted to go somewhere that
had a stable quarterback. And Andrew being young, you know he’s going to be
around for a while.”
Grigson also knows that so he made sure to keep his own assets in-house as
well, first inking backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck before re-signing
versatile reserve offensive lineman Joe Reitz as well as defensive backs
Darius Butler and Mike Adams.
Often teams regard “winning” free agency like the Sports Illustrated or Madden
cover jinxes, something to avoid at all costs.
But, Indianapolis already has all the “Luck” it needs and everyone is buying
“(Frank Gore) told me Indy,” Johnson claimed “and (Indianapolis) was already
on my mind, so I was just like, ‘let’s do it!'”