With the close of the 2010 NFL fiscal year, the Colts have some tough choices to make at nearly every spot on the roster. Let's go through the top of the Colts' roster player by player with an eye on what it might cost (or save) to bring them back for 2011.
In doing this exercise we have to take for granted some presuppositions:
1. There will be a full season in 2011. This is a big one, but if there's no season, there's NOTHING to talk about, so let's stay positive for the moment.
2. The new CBA will have roughly comparable salary rules to the old CBA. It seems to me that the battle lines are being drawn around how much money the owners and players will split, and not around the way contracts are structured. For the purposes of this article, we are assuming the old salary cap rules will be in place in the new CBA. This is a big assumption, I know, but I haven't heard any suggestions or alternative plans, so for now we'll stick with what we know.
Finally, there is one more major assumption that isn't quite the given the other two are. For now, I'm assuming that players cut before the end of the 2010 year are cut in an uncapped year. That means that their entire unaccounted for bonus money can be written off without penalty going forward. In the old days under a cap, a player who was cut had to have all his bonus money accounted for in the next season. This created the so called 'dead money' effect. However, because there is no cap in 2010, it is unclear how players cut now will affect future cap calculations. While it is possible the new CBA could retroactively charge teams for players cut in 2010 going forward, it seems more likely that there is a short window in which teams can essentially erase past mistakes, flooding the market with over-priced veterans.
Now, let's look at the roster by salary and consider what will become of the key names. Most salary information comes from Coltscap.net, which hasn't been updated in a while, but the numbers still hold for most of the players in question. Even when they are off by small amounts, in most cases the general principles will hold true. Remember that in most cases 'bonus money' must be paid to the player no matter, but salary does not.
1. Peyton Manning (2011 'cap number' $0 million)
We all know that Manning is in the running for the richest contract in history. However, it would be dishonest to not even consider the option of letting the 35 year old Manning walk rather than committing to him for another 4-5 years at around $20 million a year.
There. I've considered it.
Now, let's get back to the question at hand: how to throw as much money as possible at Manning while still fielding a team. On one hand, the Colts could well be looking at a much SMALLER cap number for Manning next year. His number was $21 million in 2009 and $19 million last year, so it wouldn't be hard to lower it. It's all about how far out they want to push the bonus money. If they want to add dummy years at the end of the deal, they could pay him a huge bonus and then split it up over 6 or 7 years (even if he only plans on playing 5). This could mean a real nice cap number the next couple of years, with a crippling amount of dead money when he retires. It wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. The team could tank for a year post-Manning and draft a new quarterback.
2. Dwight Freeney (2011 'cap number' $16.1 million)
Freeney's deal is huge. He's slated to make $11 million next season plus $5 million in bonuses. Cutting him could save the Colts $10 million in future bonus money.
Freeney has shown no signs of slowing down, however, and is probably still worth the money. After the 2011 season, Indy will have about $5 million left in future bonuses to account for. That's not too bad. Still, some kind of extension/reworking of Freeney's deal could save Indy lots of cap room this year. Pass rushers can stay viable well into their late 30s, so there's no need to worry about Freeney yet.
3. Kelvin Hayden (2011 'cap number' $9 million)
Hayden needs to be cut. The bottom line is that he's not worth the massive money he's due to be paid. He's slated to make $6 million in 2011. In addition, Indy could clean almost $9 million in future bonus money off the books. I'm fine with the Colts trying to bring him back at a reduced amount, but there is no rational reason to keep a guy making so much money who has played so little. He hasn't played more than 11 games in any of the past three years and has just three picks. I appreciate his contributions in 2006 and think he can still be a very valuable player, but not at a cap number of $9 million next year.
4. Dallas Clark (2011 'cap number' $7.7 million)
I love Dallas Clark, but the Colts still have to account for $8.6 million in future bonus money. Cutting Clark now could wipe that off the books. His salary is acceptable ($4.2 million), so in terms of real dollars, there's no reason to cut him, but that's a lot of future and current cap room that could be cleared off the books right now.
Is he important to the Indy offense? No question.
Did we miss him this year? I don't deny it.
Should the Colts take a long hard look at what to do with a 32 year old tight end coming off a major injury? Definitely.
The question isn't "how to replace Clark if he goes?" The question is, "Will Dallas Clark still be Dallas Clark next year and for the next couple of years?". If the answer to that question is no, then now is the right time to say goodbye. Replacing his production will be much easier with millions of dollars of cap room to work with.
This is the toughest call on the board, and I'll back the team either way. They have to at least ask the question: is now the perfect time to cut Dallas Clark?
5. Bob Sanders (2011 'cap number' $6.9 million)
Sanders' salary jumps to $5 million this season. That's not going to happen. The Colts have two choices:
- Renegotiate with Sanders and spread his remaining bonus money (about $4.6 million) out over the next couple of years, lowering his base number significantly.
- Cut Sanders so as to wipe off nearly $4.6 million in outstanding bonuses off the books.
The bottom line is that it might be worth it to cut Sanders even if he is willing to sign a new deal. If the Colts do rework his contract, but decide to cut him after next season, they'll still have deal with around $2.5 million in outstanding bonus money. It's not that much, but the team could easily justify cutting their losses with Sanders altogether.
6. Reggie Wayne (2011 'cap number' $6.1 million)
Wayne wants a new deal. He's in the final year of his contract now. He's coming off an All Pro season, but also one where it seemed like his skills might be slipping. It is difficult to justify a new deal for Wayne. A short extension could make sense, but he's on the downside. Now is not the time to give him a huge new contract.
7. Ryan Diem (2011 'cap number' $5.4 million)
Cut him. There is no justification for paying him this much money. He's in the final year of his deal. He hasn't played well for a couple of years. He's 33. There's no real cap savings to be had (other than his base salary), so the Colts can afford to let him come to camp if they want, then cut him if he can't earn a job, but I just can't see paying him $5 million for mediocre play.
8. Jeff Saturday (2011 'cap number' $4.9 million)
Saturday is in the final year of his deal. He slipped some in 2010, but $4.9 million isn't a ton of money for a team leader. Given his role with the union and the testy nature of the CBA talks, it's best to let him play out the final year of deal in 2011. Cutting him could be seen as an agressive move against the union, and could destabilize the locker room. It's worth the money just to avoid that.
9. Gary Brackett (2011 'cap number' $4.4 million)
Brackett's deal is manageable through the end of next season. I would expect that 2011 is his final year with the Colts. He's got about $9.6 million in bonus money left to be accounted for, so if the team wanted to go tabla raza, they could clear it. His 2011 salary is only about $2 million, but in 2012 it will jump to $5 million. Given Pat Angerer's presence, I doubt Brackett is on the team in 2012. Cutting Brackett next year would leave the Colts with about $7.2 million in dead money. That's a lot, so if the Colts did decide to dump Brackett now as part of a total overhaul, it would be justified. I can't see that happening this year, though.
10. Robert Mathis (2011 'cap number $4.3 million)
Mathis is a steal at this price. He's unhappy about being in the final year of his contract and wants a new deal. I'm fine with the Colts giving him one. He still should have several more productive years in front of him. There's no cap (or football) justification for parting ways with him. This is the guy to reup...not Wayne.
Antoine Bethea (details unknown)
I can't run down the specifics of Bethea's new deal, other than the first two years are worth a combined $18 million. He already played one year of the deal, and there's no way Indy would part with him, so I slotted him here at 10, just to account for him. His is one of the safest jobs on the team. After this season, his contract should be very manageable (with $9 million spread over two years).
Other players of note:
Anthony Gonzalez (2011 'cap number' $3.6 million)
Gonzo doesn't seem to be popular with Bill Polian, but given the state of Collie's health and the lack of progress by Garcon, cutting him doesn't make sense. The Colts don't save that much money by doing so. It's better to roll the dice on a manageable one year salary for Gonzo than try to sign a veteran who will end up costing more. Gonzo ought to be back next year.
Don Brown (2011 'cap number' $1.6 million)
Brown was such a missing person in the final couple of games, that some have wondered if the Colts might cut him. There's not a lot of advantage. Brown is cheap. Cutting him only wipes $600,000 off the books, and his base salary is less than $2 million each of the next three years. It's way too early to give up on Brown, and there's no financial reason to do so.
All told, the team could clear $21.3 million in cap space just by cutting Diem, Sanders, and Hayden. That's just for next year. If they chose to cut Clark and Brackett they would save another $12.1 million. In terms of future bonuses, the Colts would save ANOTHER $22.4 million dollars in future cap space (for 2012 and beyond) by parting ways with those five players (again, assuming the uncapped year rules work as I've stated). Of the five only Diem played 16 games. Brackett and Hayden played 12 and 11 games respectively. The bottom line is that the Colts already had to play without these guys on a regular basis. Now may be their one chance to unload huge deals with no long term consequences. They have to take advantage.
The Colts are in a strong position right now. They have a lot of players entering the final year of their deal. They have a window in which they could erase a lot of past mistakes. They have difficult decisions to make with free agents like Addai, Session, and Bullitt. They desperately need to rebuild the offensive line, starting with both tackle spots. Cutting veterans making too much money for too little production would be the perfect way to come up with the money necessary to retool the team at a few key positions.