One of the unique aspects of the Colts is their salary structure. Indy has a top heavy mentality populated by stars making a lot of money, and young players filling in the gaps. Obviously, this has been a highly successful strategy, but not one without drawbacks. The last several playoff losses for the Colts have revealed two things:
1. A lack of depth at key positions. There are certain positions on which the Colts place a premium. At those spots (QB, DE, MLB for example), when Indy suffers an injury there is simply no way to replace the player. Injuries to Dwight Freeney and Gary Brackett have devastated the Colts' defense in each of the last three years.
2. Poor special teams play. Special teams is a tricky beast, because it generally doesn't correlate with winning. Last year for example, only four playoff teams made the top 10 in special teams rankings. Three of the worst teams in football were in the top 10 (Cle, TB, STL). So over the course of a season, it's easy to argue that special teams don't matter. Conversely, many excellent teams have lousy special teams units. 6 of the bottom 10 in special teams finished at least .500. The Colts were 20th, and the Saints 28th. It's foolish to try and over develop special teams units. In any given game, however, they can make a huge difference. Mike Scifres destroyed the Colts in 2008 with one of the great punting days of all time. Terrible returns, a botched kick recovery, and a missed field goal cost Indy in the Super Bowl. The Colts have survived quite well with this system, but it has burned them at inopportune moments.
Today, we are going to look at the Colts' 10 highest paid players (courtesy of Coltscap.net). This provides real insight into what the Colts' value and where we'll likely see an emphasis in the draft.
1. Peyton Manning, QB ($19.2 Million)-If he's not your highest paid player, something is wrong. Irsay's recent statements show that the Colts don't haggle with the big stars. They just pay them. Manning makes as much as the bottom 44 players on the Colts' roster COMBINED.
2. Dwight Freeney DE ($13.7)-Again, he is the second most important Colt, and is paid accordingly. He makes the defense work, as we are all painfully aware. With him, the Colts are formidable on D. Without him at full strength, they
allow forced one third down in the second half of the Super Bowl. Together Manning and Freeney represent just shy of 30% of the Colts currently committed money for the 2010 season. That percentage will drop as more players are signed, but it still shows the impact on the salary structure at the top.
3. Reggie Wayne WR ($8.2)-Wayne is the Colts #1 receiver, a locker room leader, and one of the top five wideouts in football. There's no telling why he had such a rough Super Bowl, but I think we can all forgive him one bad game. No one will have any beef with Wayne at #3.
4. Kelvin Hayden CB ($7.86)-Hayden struggled with injuries this year and did not have his best season. Generally, I'm pro-Hayden, but the argument can be made that he is the player on this list most 'out of position'. Most that is a factor of being Indy's most recent unrestricted free agent.
5. Dallas Clark TE ($7.81)-Clark had 100 catches, made the Pro Bowl and is a matchup nightmare. He is an elite offensive weapon and would be nearly impossible to replace or duplicate. Without question, he should be one of the top five highly paid Colts.
6. Don Brown RB ($6.3)*-Brown's rookie deal pays $1.2, $6.3, $1.6, $1.8, $1.9. Obviously, this year's total is the exception, which is great because there likely won't be a cap. For a more detailed description of how Brown's unique contract works, click here. Once Brown's signing bonus gets paid, his entire contract is reworked, meaning he falls off this list entirely. For now, I'm putting him here, but he won't actually be in the top 10 once the technical aspects of his deal are cleared up.
7. Raheem Brock DT/DE ($5.89)-Brock is valuable and versatile, but I'm not sure he rates this kind of salary. If this was a capped year, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go. Indy could save $4.2 million real dollars by letting him go. I think this is a deal that needs renegotiated.
8. Robert Mathis DE ($5.81)-Should be in the top 5, and was last year. His contract is awesome for the team and actually gets cheaper every year. A Pro Bowl DE is a bargain at under $6 million a year.
9. Ryan Diem OT ($5)-Diem did not have a great year. Manning was mostly kept clean, but the Colts were 20th in the league running wide to the right. Tackle is a premium position, and Diem is being paid premium money, but if he lost his job I wouldn't be shocked.
10. Jeff Saturday C ($4.4)-Considering that Saturday just signed a new deal, it's amazing that he's not higher up this list. Still, as important as he is, center is not premium position in the NFL.
The Colts' lone unrestricted free agent of note is Gary Brackett. Last year, Brackett was the 11th highest paid Colt. I wouldn't be surprised to see him crack the top 10 if he gets a new deal.
Other Colts of note include Bob Sanders (11th-$4.2), Vinatieri (12th-$3), Lilja (13th $2.4), and Addai (14th $2.2). No other Colt makes more than $2 million per season.