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Colts sign nose tackle Johnathan Hankins to three-year deal

Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State works out during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 25, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The investment is as significant as the addition of Johnathan Hankins to an Indianapolis Colts defense that has lacked a serious inside presence.

The team addressed a lingering issue by adding the veteran nose tackle Thursday with a three-year contract that could be worth as much as $30 million and includes at least $14.5 million in guarantees.

The investment in the 6-foot-3-inch, 320-pound Hankins is expected to greatly upgrade a run defense that has been lacking since coach Chuck Pagano’s arrival in 2012 and adds further evidence that first-year general manager Chris Ballard truly is committed to retooling the defense he inherited.

“Johnathan is a young, productive and disruptive defensive lineman,” said Colts General Manager Chris Ballard. “He possesses a wealth of experience and brings leadership to our team.”

“Defense wins championships,’’ he also said in January when introduced as Ryan Grigson’s successor. “I know you have to score points, but I’ve been blessed to be in this league to work for two places where we’ve been pretty special on defense – Chicago and Kansas City.”

Over the last month, Ballard has signed 11 veteran free agents. Seven have reinforced the defense and four could start: Hankins and linebackers Jabaal Sheard, John Simon and Sean Spence.

Ballard has been relatively frugal with all of the free-agent acquisitions except for Hankins, Sheard (three-years, $25.5 million, $9.5 million guaranteed) and Simon (three years, $13.5 million, $6 million guaranteed).

Adding Hankins to the mix eliminates one line of Ballard’s “To do’’ list as the April 27-29 draft nears. He immediately leapfrogs incumbent starter David Parry. Another free-agent signee, Al Woods, offers additional depth and could be the backup depending on the fate of incumbent starter David Parry. The 2015 fifth-round draft pick has started all 32 games, but was arrested on alcohol-related charges in Scottsdale, Ariz. in Feburary.

Hankins also would be the seventh starting nose tackle the Colts have relied on since 2012, joining Parry, Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes, Aubrayo Franklin, Antonio Johnson and Martin Tevaseu.

While it’s wrong to solely point to lackluster play at nose tackle for the Colts routinely ranking in the bottom third of the league in defending the run, a stout player inside can make a major difference.

Since 2012, the Colts have ranked 25th, 25th, 18th, 26th and 29th against the run. Along with allowing 120.4 yards per game in 2016, they yielded 4.7 yards per attempt, 30th in the league.

Hankins, 25, was considered the top veteran still on the market and had been considering a multi-year deal with the New York Giants, who drafted him in the second round of the 2013 draft.

He issued the following statement on Twitter:

Hankins started 41 of 52 regular-season games in his four seasons with the Giants.