Colts 2015 Salary Cap Outlook

Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $27.7M ($143M cap limit)

Roster Overview

Players Under Contract: 54
Pro Bowlers: 5
Unrestricted Free Agents: 12(6 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 29

Salary Cap Breakdown

Colts 2015 Salary Cap

Colts 2015 Offensive Spending

Colts 2015 Defensive Spending

Free Agents to Re-sign

Veteran safety Mike Adams ended up being an important addition to the Colts defense last season on a one year minimum salary contract. He will probably get a bit more than this this time and finish his career in Indianapolis…The Colts may need to convince Cory Redding to continue playing football as he is still very effective even at 34 years of age…Darius Butler provides a reasonable option covering the slot and should fit in that $3.5-$4.5 million salary range that is typical for players at the position…The team already released LaRon Landry which likely means that Sergio Brown will be back and given the full time job as starter.

Free Agents to Let Walk

With Reggie Wayne recovering from another injury it sounds as if retirement may be in the books for Wayne. I think this is something where the two sides need to talk this over to make sure he retires before going through the free agency process, unless the goal is to simply bring him back to set some records and phase him out…Ahmad Bradshaw is a terrific player, but he can never stay healthy and the Colts can not rely on him for a few games only to see him end the season on IR. The team has too much cap room and there are too many available options for them to bring him back…Hakeem Nicks came in on a one year “prove it” type of contract and he proved he is a third or fourth option. He should not come back.

Contracts to Modify

The team will wait until picking up Andrew Luck’s option before they actually extend him, but it is hard to imagine them not extending him this year. All signs point to the Colts signing Luck to a record setting contract and once free agency is over they should use most of their remaining cap space on him this season to keep him as affordable as possible against the cap in the future…The Colts should also consider an extension for tackle Anthony Castonzo who is in the final year of his rookie contract.

Players to Consider Releasing

We’re a little late to the party here, but there are still plenty of players that might be released on the team.  The most interesting name will be Trent Richardson, who the team suspended in the playoffs. Richardson’s salary had been fully guaranteed by I (as had others) speculated that the suspension was done to void those guarantees and allow the team to release him. Richardson is a non-factor for the team. The Colts could try to hold onto him to potentially include in a trade, but probably won’t cut him until they clarify if his guarantee is void…Donald Thomas has been unable to see the field since being signed in 2013 so it would make sense for the team to give up on him and pocket the $3.25 million…Both Greg Toler and Erik Walden could be in some danger of release, but I believe these would not occur until the players were replaced. They could also be asked to take pay cuts. Cutting Toler saves $5.5 million and Walden $3.75 million.

Offseason Plan

Of the “good” teams in the NFL, the Colts are probably the team that needs to do the most if they want to take that next step. They have benefitted greatly from playing in the worst division in the NFL for the last few years helping them inflate their record far beyond the actual performance level. Most of the time when they step up in class they have great difficulties. While Andrew Luck may be a bit of a polarizing figure in terms of just how good he is, I think most universally agree the team around him is not as good as Luck.

The Colts have built up a huge cap surplus and expect them to use it in an attempt to get to the Super Bowl. This team has been built up through free agency, specifically on defense, and there is no reason to believe that will change. Of 22 players who started at least 8 games for the team last season, 10 came from outside the Colts organization. The expected free agent contribution list was even greater than that but players like Landry and Nicks and Arthur Jones were either injured or ineffective to qualify. Most of the players are overpaid and this will likely be one of the first teams agents call on March 7 to try to up the bidding for the players they represent.

On the offensive side of the ball I think it is clear the team will want to build a running game. I would picture them being linked to trading for Adrian Peterson (perhaps including Richardson as a throw in), signing DeMarco Murray, or any of the name players that will be available. That will be followed by working on revamping the interior of the offensive line where there will also be good players. The Colts essentially set the market for right tackles two years ago and it would not be a stunner if they did the same for one of the guard spots. The team will also be linked to a number of receivers and it would not be stunning if they made they called up Miami about Mike Wallace.

I think everyone believes that this is the likely destination for Pernell McPhee to be their next pass rusher. If Haloti Ngata is released this would be a likely spot for him. Regardless of who they sign they will certainly be focusing on the defensive line and pass rush, especially if Redding retires.

The draft will likely focus on the positions that the team doesn’t upgrade in free agency. Given the lack of available players in the secondary finding another cornerback and/or safety may come in the draft. Finding younger defensive linemen should occur even if they make some signings. But I feel safe saying that the draft will supplement their run at free agency.

Thus far the team has had a number of misses when going outside the team for help so they need to find more Vontae Davis’ this season than Richardson’s if they want to be a legit contender for the AFC crown. But come March 10 expect to hear the name Colts very often.

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Free Agency Thoughts: Indianapolis Colts


Key Additions: Art Jones ($6M per year), D’Qwell Jackson ($5.5M), Hakeem Nicks ($4M)

Key Re-Signings: Vontae Davis ($9M per year), Sergio Brown ($1.4M), Fili Moala ($1.4M),

Key Losses: Antoine Bethea (49ers), Donald Brown (Chargers), Mike McGlynn (Redskins)

Major Cuts: Samson Satele ($4M cap savings)

Free Agency Thoughts:

The best decision the team made was to sign Hakeem Nicks to a relatively low cost one year contract. While Nicks has been on a downtrend he has talent and likely faced a rude awakening when he realized not many teams in the NFL valued him highly in free agency. He was a victim of the lack of success of the Mike Wallace’s of the world last year that made people put more focus on recent performance rather than potential talent. Nicks will be highly motivated to put up big numbers and this is the perfect offense for him to do that. If he can not succeed in Indianapolis his next deal will be for close to the minimum.  No risk and great reward here.

Vontae Davis will earn $20 million in the first two years of his four year contract which is quite the haul for Davis. The Colts have a tendency to overpay players and they were clearly worried about another team coming in and taking Davis. Im not sure if teams would have gone close to this level. He is a good fit in Indianapolis but in Miami seemed to have a reputation for not absorbing what the coaches were telling him to do. The Miami years might carry more weight with other teams considering a contract. As long as he makes it to the third year of his contract without concern the Colts got an ok contract, but this just seems a little on the high end.

Following the same trend was the contract of Arthur Jones. This is one of those deals where if he gets to year three with nobody mentioning any negatives on the signing they will be fine.  $16 million over two years, though, is steep.

D’Qwell Jackson’s signing, which took place right before the start of free agency, was one that initially sounded like a terrible contract, but does leave the Colts with an almost cap-free cost of cutting in 2016.  It is almost a pure cash contract with $11 million essentially guaranteed over the first two seasons. I cant picture other teams going nearly that high on him, but he will upgrade the defense.

I don’t think the team lost anyone of note in free agency. Antoine Bethea can still play, but the Colts are moving on from that generation and he doesn’t fit in with their future plans.  The team is already over-invested in Trent Richardson to justify keeping Donald Brown, who may be nothing more than a half season wonder after a disappointing run for most of his rookie contract with the Colts. They may have been dealt a little blow when Phil Costa retired after being signed in free agency, but considering they gave him no signing bonus they may have been aware that something could happen there. That’s a position they can address in the draft.

Overall Grade: C+

For the most part I am not a big believer in the way the Colts approach free agency but they are a competitive team in a bad division and have the cap space to absorb these types of contracts. Most of the deals are structured with out provisions in the year when Andrew Luck will likely turn from being a great bargain to being overpaid so they won’t have long term consequences. These contracts were better than the deals they signed last year, but I do question what will happen when Indianapolis does wind up with a roster that does not provide the salary cap flexibility they have now. If they maintain their current strategies towards roster building they may have problems in the future. But for this year they should be fine and with no first round pick and what looks to be, even in the always changing NFL, a free pass to a division title, they needed to do whatever they could to improve their team for a playoff run during free agency and they did just that.




Thoughts on Browns and Colts Trade Involving Trent Richardson


The big news of the day came down when the Cleveland Browns traded RB Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round draft pick. This is an extremely unique trade for a number of reasons. One is that in season trades for starting quality players is an event that never happens. Secondly a team giving up on a first round pick this quickly is basically a non-existent occurrence which really , for the first time, illustrates the power of the new CBA rookie wage scale.

From the Colts perspective we can come up with a handful of reasons as to why they made this trade. The Colts recently lost their starting running back to injury and admitted that they needed to bring in another player to take over the job, presumably splitting downs with Ahmad Bradshaw. Colts ownership has been committed to a fast franchise rebuilding, post Peyton Manning, and does not want to see their team take a step back from the 2012 surprising playoff campaign.

This is a team that is not shy about trading draft picks and pulled a similar move last season when trading for CB Vontae Davis from the Miami Dolphins. Davis was a former first round pick of the Miami Dolphins that had more or less fallen out of favor with the organization by 2012. The Colts quickly pounced believing that first round talent made available is worth the price, which in Davis’ case was a 2nd round pick. This trade played out in front of everyone on the show Hard Knocks.

This is a similar situation where the Colts were likely blinded by the potential of grabbing a player just one year removed from being the 3rdoverall pick in the draft. Richardson’s rookie season was disappointing with an extremely low yard per carry and in my own evaluation some of the lowest running back generated yards in the NFL. From Indianapolis’ point of view they have to see that as a byproduct of the Browns terrible offensive situation which is far different than that of the Colts.

Financially the move makes sense for the Colts. The Colts had $2.98 million in cap room left to spend and Richardson will only cost the team $1,165,900 in both cash and cap this season. Assuming he replaces a player making $405,000 the net cap charge is just a bit over $808,000. So the cost itself is nothing for the year.

But moreso than that, if you are a team that believes that they are getting back a first round draft pick this becomes a financial bonanza for the team. The Browns have already paid Richardson $13,341,672 in the form of a signing bonus. The Colts only responsibility is $6.6 million in guaranteed salary over the next three years. That is essentially the same guarantee that would be given to the 23rd pick in the 2014 draft. As long as the Colts grade Richardson above that draft slot they are getting a bargain on the price.

From the Browns perspective this is a bit of a stunning move. Besides the incredibly high sunk cost they had in Richardson they will carry a dead money charge for him of $6,670,836 in 2014. It also marks a complete give up on the 2012 draft which was supposed to re-shape the Browns franchise. In that draft they drafted Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden in the first round. Today they benched Weeden and then turned around and traded Richardson.

The Browns side of this shows the power that the new CBA has given teams in regards to rookies and there are a number of reasons that they could take this move on from a financial perspective. The first reason obviously is the wage scale itself. While the charges paid to Richardson and the remaining dead money is high, it is nothing compared to the old draft payscale. The last third round pick of the old system was Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McCoy earned $15,792,500 in bonus money as a rookie. In the second year of his contract the Buccaneers paid him a $9,975,000 option bonus. All of this would have been paid well before the trade date. Had the team traded McCoy they would have been left with a dead money charge of $10,980,000 in the year following the trade. The team trading for him would have taken on $15.34 million in cap charges for the three year period. Remember that these are 2010 dollars meaning they would have been much higher in 2012.

The other CBA area that this highlights is the removal of the salary cap floor. In the old CBA teams were required to spend up to a certain level in salary cap dollars. More often this eliminated gigantic carryover dollars from year to year leaving most teams with a similar unadjusted salary cap. The new CBA removed this rule and replaced it with cash spending limits over four year periods. A team like the Browns was able to carry over $14 million dollars in 2012 and maintain a cap payroll of over $20 million in space, which will be rolled over to 2013 to easily absorb the financial impact of the move.  This would have been far more difficult before 2011.

While some may see this as giving up on the season, much depends on the internal grade they are giving to Richardson. Like I mentioned above Richardson was not productive in 2012. His style of running is a throwback to an older generation that could feature players like Jerome Bettis gaining small amounts of yards but pounding the ball into the line multiple times a game. Richardson was slow to the line and never avoided contact. He was closer to a Jamal Lewis in the later years than a real game changer like Adrian Peterson.

You have to value players as assets and if there is a team willing to give you back a first round pick it’s a move you need to make. If it was possible to forget that Richardson was the third overall pick in the draft he would have been considered a replacement level player likely destined for injury due to absorbing more punishment than needed.  The longer you wait on those players the less you will receive in return.

Looking back through some high pick trades/busts would show that lesson. Aaron Curry was selected 4th  overall in 2009 by the Seattle Seahawks.  By the end of the 2010 season the book was written on him and it was well known the staff wanted him gone. The Seahawks received a 7th round pick for Curry just two years removed from the draft and they had to pre-pay a large portion of his salary. Last season the Rams traded former number 2 overall pick Jason Smith to the New York Jets. Again Smith had fallen out of favor with an organization and coaching staff. They had to prepay a large portion of his salary to entice the Jets to make the trade. The Jets gave up Wayne Hunter, a journeyman tackle, for Smith.

With the Browns realizing how bad their offense was it was only a matter of time before new things were tried in 2013. Weeden was step one and Richardson would have been step two at some point. Once that occurs his value plummets barring a turnaround in performance.  Even if he wasn’t benched it becomes two years removed from a draft and teams would hear all offseason about how the Browns don’t want him anymore. You go from earning back a 1st to a 2nd or maybe far worse. Remember that cutting Richardson could never happen because his salary was fully guaranteed with no offsets so they had to find a trade partner to move him.

While this may look like the Browns blowing it up my feeling is they believe that they will get similar performance from a Willis McGahee type player that they would from Richardson. Even if he doesn’t all that happens is the Browns will improve their draft position. The st6rategy here is to amass draft picks and have the ammunition needed to draft a QB even if they fail to be bad enough to pick one themselves. If not they should be in a position to grab good offensive talent, an area where the Browns are woefully short on spending. All the cap room they are creating could allow them to go into free agency and look at players like Jay Cutler and surround him with high draft picks, which may be Plan B at this point.

The other aspect that this trade brings up is the short leash which players should be on under the new CBA. Under the old CBA salary cap charges dictated playing time and the fact that you had to hold onto busts for a long time. That CBA helped players such as David Carr and Mark Sanchez earn lucrative extensions despite mediocre performance. It allowed for players like Joey Harrington to get way more opportunities than the play deserved. Teams are no longer financially bound to these high drafy picks and it plays into the fact that teams should be trying new things when the players fail.

This is more in respect to Weeden than Richardson, but it is a smart football decision to sit him and see if there is anything else on the roster. At the worst you are stuck with a player on a salary that is representative of a backup salary. It is easy to justify putting him on the bench. It’s why is so mind boggling that a team like the Jaguars is so desperate to get something out of Blaine Gabbert. His contract doesn’t force him onto a team anymore yet the Jaguars are treating it like it does.

So while it has been a tough decade to be a Browns fans today’s moves show me an organization that at least “gets it” in regards to rookie management. They understand the new CBA and what it means. Evaluate what you have and if you don’t like it find a trade partner before they realize you are abandoning ship. Cleveland moved on today and that is a great thing for that city.

For the Colts this carries low risk financially but they need Richardson to play like a top level talent to make it worth it,. The team has many holes and I’d be a little worried about the trades of high picks. They have amassed large cap space to spend and Id expect them to be active in free agency again. They were big spenders in 2013, but long term building through free agency is often not the way to build a perennial contender. Richardson is young so the age isnt an issue here but he has to perform better than their draft slot they gave up to make this a good decision from their side rather than an impulse splashy move that grabs headlines and does little to improve the team.

We’ll get the cap figures updated tomorrow to reflect the trade.

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The Consequences of Vick Ballard’s Injury


On Friday RB Vick Ballard was placed on the season ending Injured Reserve list by the Indianapolis Colts after suffering an ACL injury in practice. Normally that would not be something I would talk about here, but with all the discussions we had in the offseason about rookie contract negotiations I thought this might be a good topic of discussion.

Ballard was drafted with one of the compensatory picks of the 5th round of the 2012 NFL draft but earned the starting running back job for the Colts as a rookie, starting 11 games and rushing for 814 yards. That’s not too bad for a late draft pick and in our own evaluation matrix gave the Colts about $3.8 million in production.

For Ballard the injury came at the worst possible time. The Colts are a team that pushes for full season split salaries for both the first and second years of their late round draft picks. That is not exactly uncommon for the 5th round- I believe only six players selected in the round of his draft received better terms- but if he had just a preseason split Ballard would have earned his entire salary for the season. Now that he has moved to IR his weekly paycheck will fall from $28,235 to $17,824. With 16 weeks remaining in the year he will lose $166,588, nearly 35% of his anticipated takehome.

Things get worse from there for Ballard. The Colts policy for late round draft picks is tying a players’ first two seasons’ salary to the amount of Credited Seasons a player has earned. A Credited Season is earned by being on the teams’ Active roster for three games. Ballard landing on IR after just 1 week means he will not earn a Credited Season for the 2013 season. What that means is his salary in 2014 should also be reduced, in this case from $570,000 to $495,000 which is a loss of $75,000.

This feature of Ballard’s contract is not as common. Ballard was one of only five players drafted in that round that I know of from that draft to have both his 2013 and 2014 salary tied to Credited Seasons. Most only had their 2013 season tied to the amount of seasons earned. That is also true of 6th and 7th round picks. But this is an example of a team flexing their muscle as low draft picks have almost no choice but to take whatever is offered.

So the next time you wonder about what could be a holdup in signing a late round draft pick remember Ballard. A bargain for the team in 2012 will stand to lose almost $243,000 over the next two seasons because he was forced into a team friendly contract structure and was then injured early in the season.

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Best & Worst Contracts: The Indianapolis Colts


A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

Reggie WayneBest Contract: Reggie Wayne

The Colts are a tough team to come up with a best number for and I am hesitant to put a 34 year old receiver making over $5 million a year out there as the best, but there really is no other option. Wayne was incredibly productive in 2012 and became QB Andrew Luck’s favorite target. His 1355 yards were tied for the second most receiving yards ever by a player at least 34 years of age and he clearly brought veteran leadership to the team.

In some ways the Colts lucked into keeping Wayne. Wayne expected to see more interest in free agency but with questions about age and how well he would fit without Peyton Manning the doors re-opened to return to Indianapolis.

His $5.8 million a year deal was only slightly more than Santana Moss’ with Redskins and a few million less than Steve Smith’s with the Panthers, the other two notable plus 30 players in the NFL. Wayne was arguably more productive than both leading up to the extensions they received with their respective clubs. His guarantee was only slightly more than Moss’.

Wayne will be 35 this season and would have carried a $5 million dollar dead money fee had his production dropped off significantly. Benchmarked against the Smith deal that is not as bad a number as it sounds. At 35 Smith will carry a $9 million dollar hit if released. While it is not likely that Wayne will produce the yardage he did in 2012, his value that season to the team was likely enough to justify the entire contract.

Erik Walden Worst Contract: Erik Walden

Really you could just take your pick here. The Colts were flush with cap space in 2012 and seemed to make a decision to use it all up even if it meant overpaying a number of players to come to the team. Out of the entire group none was luckier than Walden to land the contract that he did.

Walden produced little in his time with the Packers. He generated 8 sacks in 2 ½ seasons despite playing alongside one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. There was no market for Walden in 2012 so the Packers brought him back on a nothing contract. After a 2012 season that was about identical to his 2011 season you wouldn’t think the market changed much for Walden, except it did.

Walden received a $16 million dollar 4 year deal from the Colts with a whopping 50% of the total guaranteed. His $8 million in guarantees assures him of a roster spot until 2015. He ended up with better security than Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney, and Cliff Avril, players who can actually rush the passer a little bit and be productive. Walden has potential to be the most overpaid player in the NFL a situation that should have been avoided but the Colts saw something that nobody else saw and paid him as if he had done it already.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars (July 5)