INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Colts general manager Ryan Grigson is much more relaxed at this year's NFL Combine.
And why not? There were no questions about whether Peyton Manning would return to the team, he's coming off a successful season and he's got money to spend. Instead of cutting guys to clear salary cap room, he has more than $40 million to use in free agency.
"It's black and white," he said. "In the last year, I was in a completely different situation, and it's nice to be able to go shopping a little bit. It's nice to be able to know that if there's somebody I'm really, really pining for, that I can at least have a crack at him."
While Grigson didn't outline a specific game plan for what he will go after in free agency, he is dropping hints. If there's a choice, he says he would rather play with a rookie cornerback than a rookie offensive lineman. The Colts could use help in both areas and have expressed concerns over keeping new star quarterback Andrew Luck upright after he took 41 sacks last season.
Those are much different than last year's concerns. The Colts were coming off a league-worst 2-14 record and faced a possible public relations nightmare as Manning's situation dragged on. The Colts eventually let Manning go, and he signed with the Denver Broncos. The stress those circumstances created was evident in watching Grigson a year ago.
"It's funny now as the year's passed how everyone tells me how miserable I was up here -- you know, the words, fidgety and uncomfortable and sweating bullets," he said. "Those things are all true. It's easier for me to be up here, just to talk about football and not have to be too guarded because last year I had a lot of things going on that I couldn't stand up here and talk freely about. That's just the plain truth."
Grigson was fine when it came time to get down to business. He added offensive linemen Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn, defensive end Cory Redding, receiver Donnie Avery and linebacker Jerrell Freeman, among others. Grigson said the former scout in him enjoyed seeing how much the franchise could get out of overlooked, less expensive players.
"We didn't have that much money, the guys we got I think have all contributed and bought in," he said.
The Colts, riding an emotional wave as coach Chuck Pagano fought leukemia, progressed quickly and were one of the surprise teams in the league last season. The Colts went 11-5 and lost in the playoffs to eventual world champion Baltimore.
"There's no doubt with Chuck being ill, it galvanized our team and it really brought us together," Grigson said. "We look for the same type of guys this year that we looked for last year. Guys who play snap to whistle, guys that buy into the philosophy, Chuck's philosophy, and that's play hard and physical. Get in your book, do the right thing. All those types of things that make you great, that's what we're going to continue to do."
This year, the Colts' top free agents are offensive linemen Joe Reitz and Seth Olsen, cornerback Jerraud Powers and punter Pat McAfee. Grigson said the Colts have started the process of identifying the players they want to keep.
"I won't include any names, but we've reached out to our guys on our team that we'd like to re-sign," he said. "I've sat down with players that I wanted to explain situations to them because I feel like I try to put as many cards on the table as I can, to be as upfront as I can so everyone kind of gets a glimpse of what direction I'm headed. We're still going through a process. There's college and pro players that we're delving into daily."
This offseason hasn't been entirely easy for Grigson. He said the reason Indianapolis chose not to re-sign the 33-year-old Dwight Freeney or oft-injured receiver Austin Collie is because they didn't fit into Indy's future plans. The Colts now will seek young players to fit into a culture that is firmly in place.
"I feel like we've laid as strong a foundation as possible because of what Chuck implemented from day one, and then it was implemented over the entire season, even when he wasn't here," Grigson said. "I think we're at a good place as far as our philosophy being intact going into next season."