Posted March 14, 2013

Ricky Jean-Francois signs with Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts, NFL Free Agency
Ricky Jean-Francois was an underrated but valuable player in the 49ers front seven. (Icon SMI)

Ricky Jean-Francois was an underrated but valuable player in the 49ers front seven. (Icon SMI)

Rather quietly, Ricky Jean-Francois headed into free agency as one of the more coveted players available. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive lineman struggled to carve out time on San Francisco’s loaded front, but his versatility meant that both teams of 3-4 and 4-3 defenses could use him.

The Colts won the race Thursday, signing the 26-year-old Jean-Francois to a four-year deal with a reported $22.5 million.

Indianapolis has been one of the busiest teams during the free 48 hours of free agency — the Jean-Francois signing was their seventh addition, plus they re-signed Darius Butler. Jean-Francois was the first pickup for the defensive line, though, and he’ll be asked to help raise the game of a unit that finished 29th against the run in 2012.

Jean-Francois, thanks to that aforementioned versatility, could slot in at any of the D-line spots in Indianapolis’ 3-4. No member of that line really produced on a consistent basis last season, so upgrading was high on the list.

The mystery now is if Jean-Francois is ready for a larger role — which the Colts clearly plan to give him, based on the terms of his contract. Last year, Jean-Francois played 327 snaps, per Pro Football Focus, and that’s the highest total he’s had in his career. Cory Redding, the leading snap-getter for the Colts last season, saw action on 648 plays.

Jean-Francois has displayed enough thus far in his career to justify the interest he generated in free agency. The Colts now need him to leap to the next level.

Grade: B. Jean-Francois will add depth throughout Indianapolis’ line, but is that enough to justify a $22-million contract? And will Jean-Francois be able to hold up for a full season if the Colts ask him to do more?

Without knowing the answers to those questions, this goes down as a very solid signing for a team on the rise, but one that could be too costly.

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