Darron Cummings, Associated Press
ANDERSON, Ind. — Signing players has suddenly become a No. 1 priority for the Colts.
On Tuesday, the Colts signed their first-round pick, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, and free agent linebacker Ernie Sims, Detroit's first-round pick in 2006. Those moves come less than 24 hours after Indy signed another former first-rounder, defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson.
Castonzo was taken 22nd overall, is expected to protect Peyton Manning's blind side and was the last unsigned pick in the Colts' draft class.
While the Castonzo move was expected, Indy's uncharacteristic free agent frenzy was not. Only one other player on the current roster, kicker Adam Vinatieri, joined Indy as an unrestricted free agent. Agent Todd France said Sims has a one-year deal, and there's no telling if the Colts are finished.
"It just depends on what we're looking for," coach Jim Caldwell said after Tuesday's special teams practice. "You want someone that can have an impact and someone that fits what we do. So we take all of those things into consideration."
Sims looks like a perfect fit with the Colts, whose defense has traditionally favored speed over size.
At 6 feet, 230 pounds, Sims is almost a carbon copy of Clint Session, a three-year starter who signed a five-year deal with division rival Jacksonville last week. Session was listed at 6-0, 235 pounds.
Plus, Sims could earn the starting job on the weak side.
Second-year linebacker Pat Angerer and fourth-year linebacker Philip Wheeler will battle for the starting strong side job. Wheeler has 13 career starts, all at that spot, while Angerer finished his rookie season as Indy's second-leading tackler (88) and played a little of everything.
Nine-year veteran and defensive captain Gary Brackett will man the middle.
But the big battle could come down to Sims and Kavell Conner, a second-year player who started nine games and had 47 tackles as a rookie.
The question now is what more might the Colts do?
When asked Tuesday morning if Indy was looking at any more free agents, Caldwell smiled and said: "There's a couple."
That's a drastic change for a team that prefers keeping the players it develops rather than signing someone else's.
It is also in an indication of how much wiggle room under the $120.3 million salary cap the Colts created by re-signing Manning to a five-year, $90 million, cap-friendly deal.
A week ago, team owner Jim Irsay acknowledged the Colts would likely have to release some players. Indy had budgeted $23.1 million to keep the four-time league MVP under the franchise tag, but the new deal reduced his cap number to $16 million.
Indy also created additional room by redoing the contract of right tackle Ryan Diem.
So far, only one veteran player has been released in a cost-cutting move -- starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden. Session and free agent left tackle Charlie Johnson both signed with new teams.
Castonzo, the 6-7, 305-pound tackle is expected to fill the vacancy left by Johnson's departure. He started a record 54 games at Boston College and was a third-team All-American last season. The contract holdout kept Castonzo out of two light practices Monday and a special teams workout Tuesday. Castonzo did partice Tuesday afternoon.
"I am excited to get into camp and get to work with my teammates," Castonzo said in a statement issued by the team. "I know there is a lot for me to learn and I am going to do whatever I can to get on the field."
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