INDIANAPOLIS – What’s better than spending someone else’s money?
What’s more enjoyable and entertaining than looking at the Indianapolis Colts’ position on the NFL’s salary cap landscape, considering what needs to be done during the offseason to upgrade the roster and digging deep into Jim Irsay’s bank account?
With free agency looming – teams are able to negotiate with pending free agents Monday and signings can be consummated Wednesday, the start of the new league year – the Colts are viewed as one of the better-situated organizations.
And rightly so.
The repressed 2021 salary cap has been set at $182.5 million, but the Colts’ cap is bumped to $190.8 million, which reflects $8.3 million from carryover from last season. They have $46.7 million in cap space, which ranks 4th in the NFL and is the most among last season’s playoff teams, according to overthecap.com. Ahead of Indy: Jacksonville ($73.7 million), the New York Jets ($69 million) and New England ($68 million).
For perspective, nine teams remain over the cap Friday, including the Los Angeles Rams (a league-high $33 million over) and Chicago Bears ($18.5 million). And keep in mind, being cap compliant at 4 p.m. Wednesday isn’t a strong suggestion. It’s a requirement.
General manager Chris Ballard leans heavily on Mike Bleum, the team’s director of football administration.
He is “outstanding,’’ Ballard said earlier this year. “Handles all our cap stuff. We plan out on a three-year basis, both from a cash and a cap standpoint. We think we’re in really good shape right now.
“The market’s going to change a little bit. We’re used to the cap rising every year, and now it’s not.’’
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic – every game was played, but there were extreme attendance restrictions – the salary cap decreased for the first time since 2011. It was $198.2 million last year. That’s an 8% drop.
It should resume its upward trajectory in 2022 with new broadcast deals in the works. For now?
“Everybody’s going to have to adjust,’’ Ballard said.
In many cases, that’s meant jettisoning players, more precisely their non-guaranteed contracts and cap obligations.
The New Orleans Saints were nearly $100 million over the cap when the offseason began. They’ve still got work to do — $16.9 million over – after releasing cornerback Janoris Jenkins, tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill, punter Thomas Morstead, wideout Emmanuel Sanders, linebacker Kwon Alexander, offensive lineman Nick Easton and defensive tackle Malcom Brown.
That brings us back to spending someone else’s – OK, Irsay’s – money.
The Colts’ $46.7 million in cap space is enticing, and offers flexibility without loping off quality players. However, it can evaporate rather quickly. That’s in part because the Colts overriding needs are at prime positions: left tackle, edge pass rusher, cornerback, wideout.
Consider this hypothetical:
- Re-sign wideout T.Y. Hilton or someone of his ilk on the open market: roughly $10 million per year.
- Get the edge rusher on the open market: $12 million average. And that’s minimum, even on a market flush with legitimate pass rushers.
- Re-sign corner Xavier Rhodes, or a comparable free agent: $7-9 million per year.
- Extend one-year restricted tenders to wideout Zach Pascal, tight end Mo Alie-Cox and Pro Bowl special teamer/backup safety George Odom: $10.1 million. That’s if Ballard gives each a second-round tender ($3.38 million). Cap hits would be lowered if the team opted to retain each with multi-year contracts.
- Address the left tackle issue in the April draft.
- Allot $5.62 million for the six-player draft class.
That eats up virtually all of the cap space, and we haven’t even discussed adding a tight end or two, which Indy will find a way to do.
And then there’s the need/desire of Ballard to take care of his own. By that we mean extensions for Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith and Nyheim Hines.
None of this has taken the Colts by surprise. As Ballard mentioned, the team always operates with a long-term vision.
But cap space or not – available cash or not – there’s only so much to go around.