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Breaking Down Colts' Salary-Cap Situation Heading into Free Agency

January 26, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Team Sanders coach Chuck Pagano of the Indianapolis Colts during the 2014 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler BrookeSenior Analyst IINovember 21, 2016

As the Indianapolis Colts continue to rebuild into a Super Bowl contender in the AFC, they will have plenty of cap space to work with as free agency gets ready to start up on March 11.

Despite so many injuries in 2013, the Colts showed that they have the talent, especially at quarterback, to win the AFC South at 11-5 and grab their first playoff win in the Chuck Pagano era. However, the Colts will now have to deal with a number of players leaving for free agency.

With that in mind, this will be a big offseason for general manager Ryan Grigson, who will be looking to add talent through both the draft and free agency. As free agency gets set to start up, let's take a look at the current salary-cap situation for the Colts.

Note: All information about cap space is provided by OverTheCap.com, and all information on contracts is provided by Spotrac.com.

 

Cap Room

Feb 21, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson speaks to the media in a press conference during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

According to Dan Hanzus from NFL.com, the league salary cap has jumped by nearly $10 million this offseason, with the official cap set at $133 million, and that number is expected to go up even more by 2015. That's great news for the Colts, who already had quite a bit of money to spend.

With the cap officially set, the Colts will have approximately $40.9 million in cap space, which will give them plenty of money to try to go for some of the bigger names in free agency. However, at the same time, Grigson is going to have to find a way to retain a number of key players who are set to become free agents as well.

While the Colts do have plenty of cap space, the front office is going to have to be careful about giving big long-term deals to players. In just a couple more seasons, the Colts will have to give players like Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen new contracts, and those guys will be getting some pretty big deals, especially Luck and Hilton.

Still, this is a great opportunity for Grigson to make a bigger splash in free agency and bring in players that could be huge upgrades at certain positions.

 

Impending Free Agents

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 04:  Vontae Davis #23 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates during the NFL Wild Card Playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 4, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Like I said, the Colts may have a ton of cap space, but they're also going to have to deal with a number of players that are set to become free agents. While some players are easily expendable, others will likely need to be paid big money in order to stay.

With so many impending free agents, let's separate them into three tiers. The first tier is for players that are expendable and wouldn't be huge losses. You can see those names below:

Colts Tier 1 Impending Free Agents
PlayerPosition2013 Cap Hit
Aubrayo FranklinDT$1,005,000
Mike McGlynnOG$2,575,000
Lawrence SidburyLB$620,000
Darrius Heyward-BeyWR$2,500,000
Pat AngererLB$1,222,500
Sergio BrownS$630,000
Ricardo MathewsDE$630,000
Jeff LinkenbachOG$1,323,000
Justin HickmanLB$303,000
Scott LutrusLB$555,000
Cam JohnsonLB$405,000
Fili MoalaDE$1,250,000
Spotrac.com

The majority of the names on here are simply depth players that were cheap and can be pretty easily replaced. Other players like Mike McGlynn and Darrius Heyward-Bey simply didn't meet expectations and were liabilities rather than assets when on the field.

Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Pat Angerer (51) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Colts 40-11. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest name in the first tier is Pat Angerer. The 27-year-old linebacker showed promise a couple of seasons ago, but due to the fact that he's struggled to stay healthy, it doesn't make sense for the Colts to sign him to a big deal. They'll likely be looking elsewhere to add help at the position.

The second tier of impending free agents are players that can help the team, but aren't guaranteed to be re-signed, either due to the fact that they will be asking for too much or the Colts might decide to go in a different direction.

Colts Tier 2 Impending Free Agents
PlayerPosition2013 Cap Hit
Antoine BetheaS$5,750,000
Donald BrownRB$2,720,000
Cassius VaughnCB$1,323,000
Josh GordyCB$555,000
Joe ReitzOG$555,000
Spotrac.com

Antoine Bethea and Donald Brown are the two big names in this tier. Bethea has been an extremely popular player in Indianapolis for a while now, but at 29 years old, he's shown signs of age and will likely be asking for much more than the team will be willing to pay.

Dec 22, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown (31) watches play on the sidelines during the second half of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts won 23-7. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

For Brown, he had a career year after running for 537 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. But the Colts seem determined to stick with Trent Richardson, and with Vick Ballard returning from a torn ACL, a crowded backfield means that Brown could be the odd man out.

The other three guys in this tier may not be starters, but they're backup players at positions where the Colts are very thin, so there's a chance they could be re-signed to smaller contracts to at least have some depth at cornerback and offensive guard.

The final tier includes players that are crucial parts of the team, although it's not a guarantee that they're all re-signed.

Colts Tier 3 Impending Free Agents
PlayerPosition2013 Cap Hit
Adam VinatieriK$3,400,000
Pat McAfeeP$2,977,000
Vontae DavisCB$1,861,250
Kavell ConnerLB$641,309
Spotrac.com

It seems odd to have two priority signings coming at kicker and punter, but Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee are very good at what they do and are incredibly popular players in Indianapolis.

While fans will want the team to re-sign both, the problem could be with how much they're asking for, especially with McAfee, as they were unable to find a long-term deal with him before placing the franchise tag on him last season.

Kavell Conner makes the top tier of free agents because of the value he brings at a relatively low price tag. When on the field, Conner makes a positive impact on the defense, but since he hasn't put up the flashy numbers, his contract should be relatively cheap.

The biggest name on the final tier is Vontae Davis. While he isn't always consistent, Davis has had some terrific games and is a solid starting corner. While he may be asking for a big contract, the Colts might have no choice but to bring him back due to the fact that the team is so thin at the position.

 

Potential Free-Agent Targets

With so much cap space, the Colts are going to be looking to add players that could be big upgrades at several positions. While predicting which players could be heading to Indy is incredibly difficult to do, there are at least a few free agents we can look at that would be intriguing targets for the Colts to pursue once free agency begins.

Below are just a few potential free agents that the Colts could be targeting:

Colts Potential FA Targets
PlayerPosition2013 Cap Hit
Alex MackC$5,032,000
Jairus ByrdS$6,916,000
Eric DeckerWR$1,506,037
Brian De La PuenteC$2,023,000
Spotrac.com

The one name that's started to pick up quite a bit of steam as a potential target for the Colts has been wide receiver Eric Decker. Denver sportscaster Vic Lombardi tweeted that the Colts have interest in the 26-year-old:

Decker is coming off of a big year with the Denver Broncos, catching 87 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. While those numbers were inflated by Peyton Manning's record-breaking season, Decker was still a productive receiver before No. 18 came into town.

While Hilton has emerged as a serious weapon for Luck, Reggie Wayne is going to be a wild card returning from a torn ACL at 35 years old, and there isn't a ton of experience at the position. Decker could take a lot of pressure off of T.Y. and Reggie thanks to his versatility and ability to make big plays.

The one position where a ton of Colts fans want to see change is at center. Samson Satele has been an overpaid player at the position as well as a serious liability when on the field, and it feels like a change at center would help the team out a lot.

Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack has been a name a lot of Colts fans have been looking at to potentially replace Satele. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mack allowed just two sacks this season and was the fourth-highest graded center in the league.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

There are a number of reasons Mack would want to leave Cleveland. The coaching staff continues to change and the team has failed to produce a lot of wins. However, the Browns also have the money to pay Mack, and that could keep him in Cleveland.

If the Colts can't grab Mack, they may go for another center. Another guy would be Brian De La Puente, who has been playing center for the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees. He's been a very solid center in pass protection, and given how often Luck has been hit the last two years, that's exactly what the Colts need. While De La Puente might not be as good as Mack, he would probably be cheaper.

Nov 17, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd (31) celebrates his first half interception against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The last name I put on this list is a stretch, but bringing in Jairus Byrd at safety could be a big move for the Colts. At 27 years old, Byrd has been one of the more impressive safeties in the league, grabbing 22 interceptions in his first five seasons, including nine during his rookie year.

Byrd was franchise tagged with the Buffalo Bills last season, and it's unclear whether or not the team will give him the long-term deal he wants. He may be an expensive addition, but if the Colts decided to let Bethea go, Byrd would be a big upgrade to play alongside LaRon Landry.

There are a ton of options for the Colts to choose from once free agency begins, so we will just have to wait and see what the front office decides to do.

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