Five days before NFL free agency opens in full, the recently cut D'Qwell Jackson landed in Indianapolis as the first significant signing of the offseason. Jackson was released in a salary-cap move by the Browns, with whom he had played his entire career after entering the league in 2006.
Having averaged 139 tackles over the past three seasons, the 30-year-old Jackson quickly found himself a coveted free agent. The Colts pounced with a four-year offer reported to be worth $22 million with $11 million guaranteed. Indianapolis had more than $40 million free under the $133 million salary cap, so those numbers represent only a fraction of their available cash, but it still looks to be an oversized investment in Jackson.
Jackson's early arrival on the free-agent market, courtesy of Cleveland's earlier move, likely helped drive up the price. He reportedly visited with the Colts, Broncos, Dolphins and Titans within days of being handed his walking papers by the Browns, so Indianapolis may have felt the need to bring an aggressive offer to the bargaining table.
Even though the cost could prove excessive, the investment appears to be a better one on the surface than the surprising four-year, $16 million deal Indianapolis gave Erik Walden last offseason. That contract included $8 million in guarantees for a player far less proven than Jackson. Walden notched just three sacks off the edge last season, while grading out as Pro Football Focus' 31st-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker.
The expectations will be higher for Jackson. He should drop into the Colts' 3-4 as an inside linebacker next to the team's 2013 leading tackler, Jerrell Freeman, and provides an upgrade there over Pat Angerer, who held that role last season when he was healthy (he played just 11 games). How well he will meet those expectations depend on his ability to thrive in a 3-4 defense when he's played his best in a 4-3.
This was a move indicative of a team expecting to stay a Super Bowl contender in 2014. It's definitely a boon for Jackson. Grade: B-minus. Jackson will make the Colts' front seven a more solid group next season. The cost of this acquisition drives its grade down -- under normal circumstances, had Jackson hit free agency on March 11, he likely would have scored far less guaranteed dough.