Looking ahead (part two)…

In my previous post, I called out the Colts front office and coaching staff for not providing adequate talent around Andrew Luck to metamorphose the Indianapolis Colts into the AFC’s dominant team.  In this and subsequent segments, I will put forth that which I am convinced the Colts need to do in free agency and the draft to address the shortcomings which have prevented them from taking their rightful place among the elite teams of the NFL.  In this installment and the next, I’m going to take a look at the following:

  1. The team’s overall cap situation, including some cuts that can be made to improve that number.
  2. The team’s own free agents and who they need to keep for either the future or to fill holes that they will be unable to address this offseason.
  3. The holes that need to be filled moving forward to allow Indy to get over the hump and become that team all Colts fans envision.

Before I get into all of that, you need to know where I am getting all of the information that I will be basing my observations on.

GRADING SYSTEM AND PLAYER STATS:

I will be using a grading system in these posts that many may not be familiar with, this grading system is from Pro Football Focus.  PFF is an advanced statistics site that delves deep into player performance based on a number of factors for each position.  They have grades for every single player in the NFL, and they provide grades and stats for not only the season, but for each game, each play and even situational statistics.  Many of the statistics and grades I will be referring to will be unavailable to the reader unless you want to pay for a subscription which, at $27 per year, is well worth it if you are an individual who wants to have access to an incredible amount of data on NFL players.  However, they do offer some of this information for free, it just takes a little digging and you won’t be able to see the overall “big picture” that the subscription package provides.  All grades and statistics will be from profootballfocus.com, unless otherwise stated.

CAP NUMBERS AND CONTRACT INFORMATION:

All salary cap and contract information is provided courtesy of overthecap.com and spotrac.com unless otherwise specified.  These sites are free and offer a wealth of information including team salary cap information and contract numbers, dead money and cap savings for each player.

INJURY HISTORY:

I mine injury data from all over the web, but general information will be provided by rotowire.com, unless otherwise specified.  Rotowire is a subscription based fantasy sports site that provides very detailed information that is valuable for fantasy football owners, but general information, including injury reports, are available for free.

With all of that behind us, let’s get moving on.

SALARY CAP SITUATION:

I would like to start by saying that I am, in no way, a capologist.  These numbers only make sense to me in a raw fashion and I am somewhat ignorant of the nuances of contract structuring in the NFL.  That being said, I do feel that I have a better grasp of this topic than the typical football junkie.  In other words, I am nothing more than an overenthusiastic fan who likes to spend way much more time than I should thinking about this stuff, so a grain of salt is advised.

The estimated base salary cap for the 2015 NFL season is $140m for each team; specifically, the Colts salary cap information is as follows (numbers are rounded to nearest ten thousand, except dead money):

Base cap: $140m
Carryover form 2014: $7.7m
Total cap: $147.7m
Active cap spending: $114.81m
Dead money: $132k
Cap space: $32.76m

The Colts have the seventh most cap money to play with in the NFL, this will be the third straight year that Indy has had a substantial amount of cap money to spend in the offseason.  When you consider the spending spree Ryan Grigson went before the 2013 season, this is really a testament to his ability to negotiate team friendly contracts with free agents that allow the Colts to cut unproductive players after a year or two without a huge dead money hit; of course, the benefits of not having to pay Peyton Manning and the rookie wage scale, which has limited the size of Andrew Luck’s contract has played a significant part in this as well.

Now, that $32.76m is not all available to play with, the draft is coming up and some of that money will have to be set aside to sign draft picks.  Fortunately, since the rookie pay scale was instituted, it’s very easy to figure up what that amount will need to be.  Indy currently has 10 picks in the upcoming draft; 1 pick in rounds 1-5, 2 picks in round 6 and 3 picks in round 7.  These picks dictate that $5.83m will need to be set aside to sign these players to their rookie contracts.

The Colts are now left with $26.93m in cap money to shop around for potential free agents; however, this will be greatly affected by the fact that the outstanding rookie class from 2012 (Luck, Fleener, Allen and Hilton) are all entering the final year of their rookie contracts this season.  Undoubtedly, Grigson will be looking to carry over some money from this offseason into next to resign most, if not all of these players.  Obviously, Luck is not going to be cheap and Hilton is going to require a large contract as well; Fleener will likely wind up being in the top 10 pay scale for tight ends and Allen won’t be far behind.  In addition, Anthony Costanzo will be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, as will Greg Toler, Adam Vinatieri and several other players, most of whom I don’t foresee being signed to a new contract.  Don’t expect Vinatieri to be on the Colts roster after his 2yr./$5m contract expires at the end of this season unless he’s willing to take a massive pay cut.  Toler, to put it bluntly, is expendable; in 2013, he was ranked 74th among all CB’s and in 2014, he dropped to 99th…Toler will not, and should not be a Colt in 2016.  However, Anthony Costanzo is a player that Indy will have little choice but to resign.  While far from elite, ranking 27th among all OT’s in 2014, he has still been a solid player at a highly valued position; at 27 years old, his ceiling is pretty high and he is definitely worth a contract extension at the end of this season.  It’s impossible to know how much will be required to resign these players at this point, but my very rough estimate is that Indy will be looking to roll over around $15m of this years cap money into the 2016 season to help pay for these players.  Unless my math skills have failed me, this will leave around $11.93m worth of fun money under the cap limit.

Compared to the initial $32.76m amount, $11.93m sounds rather paltry, but this would still leave Indy in a better cap position than twelve other teams before even considering their draft pool and future free agents.  This number can be increased by looking at what players are still under contract that Indy can cut.  I’d like to pause here for a moment and address the “June 1st designation.”  Kind of like a nega-franchise tag, teams are allowed to designate a limited amount of players as “June 1st” cuts; I will not go into explaining what this means, if you are curious, overthecap.com does an adequate job of explaining this convoluted accounting rule here.  It is sufficient to say that it only makes a difference to teams that are very tight against the salary cap, which does not apply to the Colts at this time, so I will not take it into consideration.  That being said, here is a list of players who are making more money than they are worth that Indy may consider cutting to free up cap space.  I’m only including players that I think can be safely cut without significantly hurting the team; additionally, I am not including players that are far down the depth chart, as these players would not represent a significant cap savings number.  I also will not list players, like LaRon Landry, who are not very good on the field but would represent a large amount of dead money even though they would generate more in cap savings.

Player:                    2014 Cap Number:          Dead Money:          Cap Savings:

Greg Toler                 $5.83m                                    $333k                           $5.5m
Trent Richardson*  $3.18m                                     $0                                 $3.18m
Shaun Phillips          $2.65m                                    $0                                 $2.65m
Josh Cribbs               $970k                                      $0                                  $970k

The asterisk next to Trent Richardson means that I’m assuming that the entire $3.18m in guaranteed money the Colts owe him is voided due to his suspension; as I stated in a previous post, the NFLPA is unlikely to stand by and let that happen, but, since there is no way of knowing how that will play out and this number is the standing number at the time of writing, I’m going to go with it.  These roster moves would free up an additional $12.92m in cap space, resulting in a total of $24.85m for potential free agent spending.  I find it unlikely that Grigson will actually spend this much, but, nonetheless, it is our final number that we will use going forward.

Well, that’s all for now.  Next time, we’ll take a look at Indy’s own free agents that need to be kept in the fold and the holes that need to be filled to make this team a force to be reckoned with in the AFC for the foreseeable future.

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