Colts relatively quiet as NFL’s free-agent frenzy begins

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – While a deafening buzz rolled across the NFL landscape Thursday, the local market was dealing with . . . the sound of crickets.

While so many others were throwing silly money at veteran free agents and the Houston Texans were ridding themselves of one-hit-blunder Brock Osweiler and everyone wondered how soon Tony Romo would replace Osweiler in Houston and the Jacksonville Jaguars positioned themselves to win a second straight Offseason Lombardi Trophy, the Indianapolis Colts and first-year general manager Chris Ballard kept a low profile.

Oh, they were linked to a handful of players as Thursday’s 4 p.m. opening of free agency neared: wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, guard Kevin Zeitler, cornerback A.J. Bouye and a few others. Only the Colts can confirm the level of interest, and they weren’t talking.

But they caused barely a ripple when they acquired the successor for retired punter Pat McAfee. Welcome to town, Jeff Locke. Got any good jokes?

And some advice for Locke. You’ll need to find a different number than the 18 you wore in Minnesota. It’s no longer available. To anyone.

As free agency opened, the Colts saw seven notable players hit the market: safety Mike Adams, who already had been told he wouldn’t be re-signed; defensive back Darius Butler; running backs Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman; and linebackers Erik Walden, Trent Cole and Chris Carter.

Those departures – a few could return at a later date – come on the heels of the retirements of linebacker Robert Mathis, offensive lineman Joe Reitz and McAfee.

As it now stands, the Colts will move on without veteran their career sack leader (Mathis), Pro Bowl punter (McAfee), Pro Bowl safety (Adams), invaluable nickel corner/safety (Butler), backup running back (Turbin) and kick returner (Todman).

And let’s not forget the shuffle at tight end with Ballard re-signing Jack Doyle to a three-year, $18.9 million contract Wednesday, then trading Dwayne Allen to the New England Patriots.

No one expected the 2017 Colts to resemble the 2016 Colts, and that’s a good thing. Here’s where we remind you the franchise is coming off a pair of 8-8 seasons and missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

Ballard spent the first month on the job evaluating the roster he inherited and clearly wasn’t overwhelmed by the video. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he emphasized the need to upgrade things from top to bottom.

“Competitive, speed and toughness,’’ he said. “We have to continue to add all over the roster, not just the defense; offensively, too.

“Competitive, speed and toughness. We will continue to look for that.’’

After re-signing Doyle, the Colts were about $47 million under the NFL’s salary cap, so they have the wherewithal to invest. The inactivity at the outset of free agency was a clear indication the Ballard-led Colts weren’t interested in overpaying for another team’s castoffs.

Among the early deals were:

  • Cleveland signing Cincinnati guard Kevin Zeitler to a five-year, $60 million contract that includes $31.5 million in guarantees.
  • Philadelphia signing Chicago wideout Alshon Jeffery to a one-year, $14 million contract.
  • Jacksonville signing Houston cornerback A.J. Bouye to a five-year, $67.5 million contract that includes $26 million in guarantees.
  • The Jaguars signing Arizona defensive tackle Calais Campbell to a four-year, $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed.
  •  New England signing Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a multi-year deal worth a reported $14 million per year.
  • Green Bay retaining linebacker Nick Perry with a five-year, $60 million deal with $18.5 million guaranteed.

McAfee’s successor

Locke has massive shoes to fill. McAfee retired in February as the Colts’ career leader in virtually every punting category. He led the NFL with a 49.3 net average in 2016 and ranked third in gross average (42.7). He was selected to two Pro Bowls.

Locke ranked near the bottom of the league last season in gross average (43.2, 29th) and net (39.0, 25th).

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