Why having the NFL's most cap space won't alter Colts' approach

The Colts have found success in free agency by waiting for the market to settle and signing players like Eric Ebron, who rewarded them for their patience in 2018. Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire

INDIANAPOLIS -- The negotiating period of NFL free agency opened up at noon ET on Monday. And while players such as Landon Collins, Nick Foles, Tyrann Mathieu and Trey Flowers quickly agreed to deals, the team with the most salary-cap space -- the Indianapolis Colts -- wasn't very active.

The only move the Colts made wouldn’t be characterized as eye-popping. They agreed to a low-risk, one-year, prove-it deal with former No. 1 Carolina receiver Devin Funchess. This shouldn’t be looked at as shocking. It should be looked at as expected.

Even though the Colts have the most money to spend and have a need for pass-rushers, depth in the secondary and a No. 2 receiver, general manager Chris Ballard’s approach isn't changing.

It wasn’t any different in 2018, when the Colts had the second-most salary-cap space. And you can’t expect it to be any different now that they’ve moved to the top with $101 million in cap space before contracts are finalized at the start of the new league year (4 p.m. ET, Wednesday).

Ballard repeatedly has talked about growing and keeping their own talent and also having a fixed-dollar value on what he’d spend on a player. Ballard’s vision is more about long-term success than a quick-fix approach.

For example, Collins would have been a perfect fit in Indianapolis' defense. But agreeing to the type of deal Collins reportedly landed with Washington -- six years, $84 million -- would have been an uncharacteristic move for Ballard. Teams at times pay average players great salaries and below-average players average salaries during free agency.

Ballard has shown over and over again that he couldn't care less about making headlines with the “big-name” players on the free-agent market. He has no problem sitting back and letting the market settle before he goes out and signs players from the second wave of free agency instead of getting in a bidding war early in free agency.

Need proof?

Here are several second-tier free agents the Colts have signed under Ballard who have made an impact: defensive lineman Denico Autry (team-high nine sacks in 2018), tight end Eric Ebron (13 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl berth in 2018), defensive lineman Margus Hunt (5.0 sacks in 2018, re-signed with the Colts on March 5) and defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard (11 sacks in two seasons).

Not all of the moves have panned out. Punter Jeff Locke didn’t make the 53-man roster in 2017, defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins was cut a year after signing a three-year deal with the Colts and receiver Ryan Grant was injured for part of 2018 and disappointed when he did play.

Ballard said in January he's not worried about meeting the 89 percent cash-spending threshold, required by teams every four years under the collective bargaining agreement, because he knows he'll have to pay his own players soon enough.

"Eventually what you would like to happen is you are paying your own guys," he said. "You are rewarding the guys in the locker room who have done the right things for you.”

The Colts went 10-6 and reached the divisional round of the AFC playoffs last season with that approach. The playoff loss to Kansas City showed the flaws the Colts have on their roster at pass-rusher and at receiver.

They have to get better in both of those areas in order to take another step next season. Now it’s a matter of whether they try to do it through the draft or if Ballard alters his free-agent approach ever so slightly by spending more money than the Colts are accustomed to spending.