Cap Analysis: Colts

Updated: March 9th 2016

Indianapolis Colts

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The first three years of the Pagano-Grigson-Luck combo resulted in 11-5 seasons, and progressing playoff finishes of wild-card loss (2012), divisional loss (2013), and conference loss (2014). Those teams also overachieved with mediocre defenses and makeshift offensive lines.

In 2015, Andrew Luck got hurt, intra-organizational turmoil emerged, and the team finished 8-8, with 40-year old Matt Hasselbeck going 5-3, Andrew Luck going 2-5, and Charlie Whitehurst going 0-1.

Projected 2016 Team Salary$134.9M (not including escalators and not likely to be earned incentives)

Projected 2016 Cap Room: ~$25.3M (~$155.27M Estimate; ~$5.0M Rollover)

Situation: Complicated

The Colts have $25M in cap space. Three defensive starters are free agents, the team’s top two tight ends are free agents, and the backup quarterback is a free agent.

It might seem like filling the holes on both sides of the ball and trying to compete for a Super Bowl would be the team’s top priority in 2016…but the team has bigger fish to fry. Andrew Luck is entering the option year of his five-year rookie deal, and is scheduled to become a free agent next March. Of course, he won’t actually reach free agency, because the team will apply the exclusive franchise tag before that happens.

This year, the team’s front office will be tasked with figuring out a way to keep Andrew Luck a Colt for the next 8+ years, without committing so much cash/cap in any given year that it keeps the team from building a winner around him. As you’ll see below, the team could clear more than $40M in space by releasing some of its veterans. It will release a few players, sign a few players, but ultimately it will be budgeting for Andrew Luck’s inevitable extension.  

Notable Free Agents:

Colts FAs

Matt Hasselbeck performed very well in relief duty in 2015, but it’s already known he won’t be returning to the team. Hasselbeck was one of the better paid backups in 2015, and given his performance, he will be one of the better paid backups in 2016. The team needs to put its investment in the quarterback position toward Andrew Luck.

Neither Coby Fleener nor Dwayne Allen lived up to their expectations. One of them will probably return – Fleener if I had to guess – but it’s far from a certainty.

 

Top Projected Cap Hits:

Colts Cap Hits

The top four names on this list are all 27 and younger, and the core of the team. The rest are 30+ (or approaching) and could be a target for cap savings.

Cap Casualty Watch List:

Colts Cap Cas

This list is very, very long. Large roster bonuses are typically the number one structural indicator of a potential cap casualty. They can’t all be let released, but I would not be surprised to see any one name let go.

Andre Johnson is likely gone, and probably Trent Cole too. Robert Mathis had a fairly productive first year back. Bjoern Werner has been a large disappointment, and could be let go just three years after the team selected him 24th overall.

Extension Watch List: 

Colts Ext Watch List

The trade for, and extension of, Vontae Davis has been one of the highlight transactions of the current front office. I’m sure they’ll revisit his contract again in the near future.

The team can exercise Bjoern Werner’s fifth year option, pushing his expected free agency to 2018. It’s not likely they’ll exercise that option, as he may not even make the team this year.

The negotiations surrounding Andrew Luck’s contract situation are going to be complex and challenging. Both sides will have a common goal – keep Andrew Luck a Colt for a long, long time. The Colts will also likely acknowledge early on that the extension will make Luck the highest paid player in the history of the game. But, when you can’t slot a player in – Joe Flacco is the bottom, but there’s no top – that’s when there’s more room for negotiation.

Under his fifth year option ($16.16M), and consecutive years under the projected non-exclusive franchise tags in 2017 ($24.9M) and 2018 ($29.9M), Luck would earn roughly $71M over the next three years. Joe Flacco just received a $40M signing bonus, and his $22.13M APY just surpassed Aaron Rodgers at $22M. Eli Manning and Philip Rivers both received $65M in effective guarantees (not all fully guaranteed at signing). Those four figures – 1) what Luck would earn in the next three years playing out his current contract and the tags, 2) Flacco’s signing bonus, 3) Flacco’s APY, and 4) Manning/River’s guarantees, could be the starting point for the contract’s structure.

I would project that Luck ends up with an 8-year (2016-2023), $200M contract. The contract would contain $73M guaranteed – a $50M signing bonus and guaranteed base salaries of $5, $8M, and $10M in the first three years. Base salaries for 2019-2023 would be $20M, $23M, $26M, $28M, and $30M – making Luck’s APY $25M over the entire deal. Signing bonus pro-rates over the duration of a contract, and a maximum of 5-years – Luck’s cap charges would be highest in the middle of the contract, in 2019 & 2020. The team and Luck could have a wink-nod deal to convert some base salary to signing bonus to create cap relief in one or both of those years if needed.

Position Needs: 

Linebacker, Corner, and Safety.

Sleeper Watch: 

Would the fantasy community be more surprised to see Donte Moncrief or Phillip Dorsett produce a 1,000 yard season in 2016? I think most people prefer Moncrief, so that means Dorsett counts as a sleeper despite being a first round pick.


Matt Papson (@RealitySportsMP) formerly worked in football administration for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the President, co-founder and creator of Reality Sports Online, a fantasy front office platform that enables fantasy owners to build and manage their fantasy team like a professional sports general manager. The Reality Sports Online platform has been featured in Fortune, on Bloomberg TV, and was the 2012 Fantasy Sports Trade Association Rookie of the Year.

Sources: Spotrac, Pro-Football Reference, and Rotoworld

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