In the 2013 offseason, the Indianapolis Colts were blessed with one of the most flexible cap situations in the league, due to GM Ryan Grigson's shedding of big contracts the previous year. As the 2014 offseason approaches, the Colts once again are in a favorable position to improve, although with a few more handcuffs.
The Colts will have over $36 million in cap room in 2014, according to Spotrac, the third-most in the NFL behind the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders. With room to play and a roster with plenty of room for improvement, Grigson has an interesting offseason ahead of him. No matter when the Colts' 2013 season ends, they have a bright future with as high of a ceiling as any team in the league.
Last year, Grigson opted to attack the offensive line and defensive lines by paying mid-tier free agents top dollar. Grigson also signed a few high-priced but injury-prone members of the secondary, in what was largely a disappointing free-agent class. With 23 expiring contracts and several others that could be in jeopardy, the Colts will likely be looking at a roster with plenty of new faces again in 2014.
So where should Ryan Grigson go with this money? There are plenty of ways to attack the question, from looking at value free agents to looking at the Colts' team needs, but for this particular piece we'll be breaking down how the Colts' current 2014 roster is structured financially and looking at which positions could use more (or less) spending.
The Colts currently have 45 players on contract for 2014, and only the top 51 contracts count against the cap at the end of the year. So, don't assume that the Colts have to sign 23 free agents come March. They do have a good number of positions to fill, but it's less about quantity and more about trying to find quality players to improve upon current starters and rotational players.
|2013 Playoff Teams' Cap Space in 2014|
|Team||Cap Space||NFL Rank|
|Indianapolis Colts||$36.56 million||3|
|Green Bay Packers||$18.48 million||9|
|Cincinnati Bengals||$15.49 million||11|
|Carolina Panthers||$12.53 million||13|
|Denver Broncos||$10.63 million||17|
|Philadelphia Eagles||$7.42 million||19|
|San Francisco 49ers||$5.45 million||20|
|Kansas City Chiefs||$2.96 million||24|
|New England Patriots||$600k||26|
|San Diego Chargers||-$824k||28|
|New Orleans Saints||-$8.72 million||30|
Quarterback: Andrew Luck ($6.03 million, 19th among all NFL QBs), Matt Hasselbeck (3.75 million, 26th)
There shouldn't be any moves made here, outside of possibly cutting Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck has the fifth-largest cap hit for any Colts offensive player in 2014, far too exorbitant of a hit for a backup quarterback.
Running Back: Trent Richardson ($2.25 million, 23rd), Tashard Choice ($855k, 42nd), Vick Ballard ($606k, 62nd), Dan Herron and Chris Rainey (570k, 74th)
The Colts likely will sign another back to be in a rotation with Richardson and Ballard, while Choice, Herron and Rainey will likely be practice-squad players or bouncing around rosters elsewhere. Richardson being cut based on his play would be a possibility, but all of his base salary is guaranteed, so the Colts would have to eat the $2.25 million. So it seems unlikely that he'd be cut.
Potentially, the Colts could sign Donald Brown or Ahmad Bradshaw to short contracts to fill that role. Bradshaw likely won't draw more than veteran minimum offers, while Brown could cost somewhere between $2-3.5 million per year.
|2014 Colts Offensive Cap Hit by Position|
|Position||Cap Hit||Players||Average||Highest Player|
Wide Receiver: Reggie Wayne ($6.17 million, 25th), T.Y. Hilton ($707k, 75th), LaVon Brazill ($590k, 104th), Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen ($495k, 138th)
While the Colts do need a future replacement for Wayne and another solid starter alongside him and Hilton, it seems unlikely that the Colts would spend much money on the position with the emergence of the three young receivers. If the Colts do go after a receiver to eventually replace Wayne, a draft target may be more realistic. (Did somebody say Jordan Matthews?)
Tight End: Coby Fleener ($1.46 million, 26th), Dwayne Allen ($836k, 35th), Weslye Saunders ($645k, 51st), Jack Doyle ($495k, 72nd)
While the Colts haven't spent a large chunk here, it would make little sense for them to sign anybody outside of a replacement for Doyle or Saunders as the third tight end. Fleener and Allen are the locked-in starters, unless Allen's injury rehabilitation doesn't go as planned.
Fullback: Stanley Havili ($570k, 18th)
Good deal. No tweaks needed.
Tackle: Gosder Cherilus ($3.90 million, 26th), Anthony Castonzo ($2.55 million, 33rd), Justin Anderson ($570k, 72nd), Xavier Nixon ($495k, 89th)
The 2014 Colts are getting good bang for their buck with Cherilus and Castonzo as starters, who have been durable and above-average players. The two were ranked 25th and 27th among all tackles by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in 2013 and look to give the Colts reliable bookend tackles for the near future.
The depth tackles could be tweaked, namely Justin Anderson, who hasn't seen the field in his two-year career due to injuries. Don't expect the Colts to spend more than the veteran minimum there, however.
Guard: Donald Thomas ($3.75 million, 25th), Hugh Thornton ($641k, 65th)
The Colts need to sign one, if not two guards in the offseason, both for depth and somebody to challenge Thornton for the starting position on the right side. Joe Reitz, Jeff Linkenbach and Mike McGlynn are all potential re-signs, with Reitz being the most promising going forward.
Other possibilities would be guys like San Diego's Rich Ohrnberger or former Colt Mike Pollak (collective gasp). No matter what, don't expect the Colts to spend more than $2 million in the 2014 cap on guards. They like Thornton and likely won't sign a sure starter, but will look to create competition.
Center: Samson Satele ($5.07 million, 10th), Khaled Holmes ($600k, 31st)
Satele is easily the most overpaid Colt, with the third-highest cap hit for a Colts offensive player in 2014. He's arguably the worst starter on the team, and it would be a surprise (and slap in the face) to Colts fans if he remained on the team with his current contract. It would cost the Colts about $1.1 million to cut him, so they'd still save $4 million.
But, the Colts would need to sign a starting center in that scenario. Holmes has only played 13 snaps this year and has had no experience with the first-team offensive line. The top of the free-agent market for centers includes Cleveland's Alex Mack, New Orleans’ Brian de la Puente and Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith. To sign one of those players would likely cost between $5-8 million per year, depending on the player.
Defensive End: Ricky Jean Francois ($5.13 million, 22nd), Cory Redding ($4.39 million, 26th), Montori Hughes ($545k, 96th)
Depth is the only expected signing here. With Redding and Jean Francois already making nearly $10 million between them, the Colts won't pony up big dollars for a starter. They may look at drafting Redding's replacement, but there shouldn't be any significant money spent here. Look for Fili Moala, Jeris Pendleton or Ricardo Mathews to potentially be re-signed.
Defensive (Nose) Tackle: Josh Chapman ($549k, 64th)
|2014 Colts Defensive Cap Hit by Position|
|Position||Cap Hit||Players||Average||Highest Player|
|DE||$10,062,160||3||$3,354,053||Ricky Jean Francois|
The Colts like Chapman, but are they ready to hand him a full-time starting job? I could very well see them signing another Aubrayo Franklin type to split time with Chapman, or even Franklin himself. Likely spending for the 2014 cap would be between $700,000 and $1.2 million.
Outside Linebacker: Robert Mathis ($8.75 million, 6th), Erik Walden ($4.25 million, 20th), Bjoern Werner ($1.79 million, 44th), Daniel Adongo ($495k, 105th)
Mathis has the highest cap hit on the team in 2014, but if he plays anywhere near the level he has this season, it will be well worth it. He's the only consistent pass-rusher on the team, and his play largely determines how the defense performs.
While the Colts could invest in another pass-rusher, they seem loosely married (civilly united?) to the Walden/Werner combination. A depth signing similar to the Lawrence Sidbury signing from 2013 seems more likely than a big name. With nearly $15 million locked up in Mathis, Walden and Werner, that's just fine.
Inside Linebacker: Kelvin Sheppard ($780k, 40th), Andy Studebaker ($730k 45th), Jerrell Freeman ($577k, 54th), Mario Harvey ($570k, 57th), Josh McNary ($495k, 74th)
Here's a position that could get interesting. The Colts need both depth and starting-caliber talent at inside linebacker, where only Jerrell Freeman should be penciled in as a sure Colt in 2014. I'd expect McNary to stick around, as he's flashed high potential in limited work this year. The rest are replaceable, and could easily be swapped out for other depth players.
The bigger question is whether the Colts go after a veteran linebacker to start alongside Freeman. The Colts have struggled to fill that position for the last two years as Pat Angerer's struggled with injuries, and they could look to free agency for a short-term fix. While the draft is certainly a possibility, don't be surprised if the Colts spend $2-3 million on a short contract for a player like Daryl Smith.
Cornerback: Greg Toler ($4.83 million, 25th), Darius Butler ($2.50 million, 37th), Sheldon Price ($495k, 121st)
The Colts are almost certainly going to spend big money on cornerback this offseason, with Vontae Davis being the most likely target. Davis has established himself as a good, although not great, No. 1 cornerback and will be looking to get paid as such. Davis will certainly want more than the $6 million per year that former teammate Sean Smith got last season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him get offers of up to $8.5 million per year.
If they don't sign Davis, look for the Colts to grab a starting cornerback from elsewhere on the market. There are a lot of good targets, with guys like Captain Munnerlyn, Alterraun Verner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Will Blackmon and Chris Harris Jr. all on the market.
Between a starter and some depth, expect the Colts to spend between $6-9 million of the 2014 cap on cornerback.
Safety: LaRon Landry ($4.75 million, 17th), Corey Lynch ($730k, 52nd), Delano Howell ($570k, 78th)
The Colts have to look at replacing Antoine Bethea, whose career with the Colts may be coming to a close.
If Grigson wants to improve the safety position significantly, Jairus Byrd would be the pipe dream. Byrd's phenomenal coverage skills would mask Landry's deficiencies and allow him to play closer to the line of scrimmage more consistently.
Otherwise, the Colts could go any number of directions with this position, from signing a mid-level starter to allowing Delano Howell (who played well as a backup in 2013) to inherit the position.
As always, the draft is an option as well.
Special Teams: LS Matt Overton ($570k, 24th)
Of course, no team would be complete without the special teamers, and the Colts have two larger-than-life specialists finishing their contracts this offseason. Pat McAfee is both a great public figure and fantastic punter and should be re-signed. He likely will want to be made the highest paid (or close to it) punter in the league, however, and would demand $3.5-$4 million per year.
Adam Vinatieri may have a little left in the tank as well, and the Colts may want to bring back the clutch kicker, who has been as good as ever this season. It likely would be the veteran's final contract, and he may command $3 million-plus per year.