By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — The free agency period began early for the Indianapolis Colts with Thursday’s addition of veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
A second-round pick in the 2006 draft, Jackson was released on Feb. 26 after eight years with the Cleveland Browns. He embarked on a brief free agent tour that included stops in Tennessee, Miami and Denver before choosing to sign with the Colts.
The deal is reportedly for four years at $22 million with $11 million guaranteed, big money for a player who will turn 31 years old shortly after the start of the 2014 season. But there were reports Jackson chose Indianapolis over richer deals elsewhere, and the linebacker did little to discredit them during a conference call with local media.
“I’ve made a great living so far so the decision for me was easy,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t a financial decision. It was a decision to be around a good group of guys, first and foremost, and a team that was willing to get to the Super Bowl, and that’s what it comes down to. It’s the passion of the game.”
The Colts freed up a little more salary cap room later in the day by releasing starting center Samson Satele, a move that nets the team about $4 million. Indianapolis also extended an exclusive rights free agent tender to outside linebacker Cam Johnson and restricted free agent tenders to cornerback Josh Gordy and offensive lineman Joe Reitz.
The latter two designations give the Colts the right to match any offer extended by another team after free agency begins Tuesday.
The moratorium for free agency signings applies only to players whose contracts are expiring. Those who are released with years remaining on their deals, like Jackson, are free to sign immediately.
And Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson wasted little time in getting Jackson on board.
“He is a team-first guy that has been a very consistent producer on the field,” Grigson said in a team news release. “The tempo, energy and determination he plays with are right up there with the best in this league. He brings a welcomed element of experience and natural leadership to our team, and we are excited to add him to the strong nucleus of linebackers we currently have on our roster.”
Jackson likely will start inside next to third-year veteran Jerrell Freeman. Indianapolis also has returning Josh McNary and Kelvin Sheppard in the mix alongside Henoc Muamba, a Canadian Football League alum who was signed last month.
Jackson led Cleveland in tackles in each of the past three seasons, including 140 stops in 2013. He has 815 career tackles with 11.5 sacks and eight interceptions.
One of Jackson’s first calls following his release went to former Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, who is now a special assistant to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. Dinner with Pagano this week helped seal the linebacker’s decision to choose Indianapolis.
“We barely talked football,” Jackson said. “We just spoke, had dinner and we talked about random things. Any time you can do that, you know you’re dealing with a good guy. He’s been through a lot in his life, obviously. The guy is high on life, and I want to be around people like that.”
Jackson also wants to compete for a championship.
He watched the Colts from afar, and he likes what he’s seen from third-year quarterback Andrew Luck. Indianapolis believes it can put the pieces in place to contend for a Super Bowl title next season.
Jackson brings a reputation for strong leadership to the locker room, and he believes the family atmosphere is a key to the Colts’ success.
“Everyone I spoke to, that seemed to be the common thread in terms of getting to that next level,” Jackson said. “It’s that missing piece I wasn’t aware of being in Cleveland. Everyone has to like each other. You have to like going to work in order to get your job done. It makes everyone better.”