INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts waited patiently to make a splash in free agency.
Now, they're creating some major ripples.
On Monday, they solidified their secondary by announcing the signing of 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore.
The five-time Pro Bowl cornerback comes to the Colts after five seasons with Buffalo, four with New England and his fifth and most recent campaign split between the Patriots and Carolina Panthers after an October trade.
"It just felt right in my heart to come here," Gilmore said Monday after the announcement, "especially with the talent on the team. Me watching them from afar last year, what they did last year and was right there. I just wanted to come in and try to help the team get over that hump. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Gilmore's visit to the Indianapolis last week to meet with coaches and general manager Chris Ballard sealed his decision. "The opportunity, the potential the team had, talking to my family making sure it was the right opportunity for us also," he said. "So, I’m looking forward to it because I think the future here is bright."
The unrestricted free agent signed a to a two-year contract, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Friday.
Indy's secondary needed help after Ballard opted not to re-sign 31-year-old cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a three-time Pro Bowler who struggled in 2021, and traded Rock Ya-Sin to the Las Vegas Raiders in exchange for 2017 Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue last month.
They still have Pro Bowl cornerback Kenny Moore II, who primarily covers slot receivers, and starting safeties Khari Willis and Julian Blackmon.
In 2021, Gilmore saw action in eight games with the Panthers after he spent the first seven weeks of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list with New England before the trade to Carolina on Oct. 6, 2021.
The Colts also added free agent safety Rodney McLeod on Thursday. McLeod's interception against Washington last December helped Philadelphia make the playoffs.
“These guys have made the playoffs, they know what it takes. It’s now how can we get to that next step, and that next step is playing for a world title,” McLeod told local reporters Thursday. “That’s what we all play this sport for and so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Earlier in the week, Indy signed linebacker Brandon King, a longtime special teams contributor in New England, and safety Armani Watts, a backup with Kansas City. The Colts also announced Friday they had signed former Tennessee offensive tackle Brandon Kemp.
Ballard has typically avoided spending big bucks or handing out long-term contracts to free agents, preferring instead to build through the draft, prioritize players Indy developed and find help through trades.
So signing Gilmore was a major step.
The Colts clearly believe the 31-year-old still can play at a high level despite appearing in nine games during his injury-plagued 2021 season.
Gilmore's best season came in 2019, when he had six interceptions and 20 passes defensed, both career highs. He has 427 tackles and 27 interceptions in his 10-year career.
Now, he's joining a defense led by new coordinator Gus Bradley that already included three-time All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, Moore, Ngakoue and linebacker Bobby Okereke, who finished 14th in the league with 132 tackles last season. Plus, the Colts like what they saw from rookie defensive linemen Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeybingo last season.
Ballard is betting it's a combination that could make waves in a suddenly star-studded AFC.
Indy also had a hand in this offseason's wild quarterback carousel. Ballard dealt Carson Wentz to Washington in March. Two weeks later, he acquired 36-year-old Matt Ryan, the league's 2016 MVP, in a trade with Atlanta.
And now, the Colts think they have the components to return to the playoffs — and compete for a championship.
“I was very impressed and honestly wanted to be a part of it," McLeod said referring to Indy's defense. “I think with a few added pieces, a championship is destined.”