With the Superbowl wrapped up and the 2012-13 season now in the books, it's time to look ahead to the future, and in particular, free agency. The $46m figure has been thrown around regarding the Colts' cap space, and as such it's bound to be an exciting time to be a Colts fan. I'd argue that our current position allows us the freedom to aggressively pursue free agents and players we desire to an unprecedented extent when historically assessing the league.
(AP Photo - MIchael Conroy)
When the rookie wage scale was introduced, the most obvious benefits were to provide a greater pool of money for veterans who deserved it given cap limitations - no more 6 year, $80m deals in the style of Sam Bradford in 2009 - the #1 overall pick has been limited to $22m over 4 years, or something thereabouts.
Combine the new salary parameters with the uniquely prodigious talent of Luck, and I'd argue that the Colts are in completely uncharted territory when it comes to the upcoming three year period.
Put it like this - no other team has had this amount of cap space with a quarterback this talented, at a bargain basement price. He will remain a bargain for the next three years guaranteed - you can't modify rookie contracts, as agreed in the CBA.
As a result of this, I want to see Ryan Grigson amidst a whirlwind of activity, showing aggressiveness the likes of which we haven’t encountered from the Colts in recent years. Moves like Darrelle Revis can be considered through the filter of a three year window - provided the contracts we do move forward with are negotiated appropriately when it comes to duration, allowing us the flexibility to re-sign or franchise Luck when the time comes.
Ed Reed for a year – two at a stretch – on a big contract? I don’t see why not. This team needs more veteran leadership and experience – particularly on defense – and we should be willing to spend to the cap to make it happen. Jim Irsay has never had any issue opening the chequebook in the past, and I’d expect that to continue. Combined with Grigson’s seeming aggressiveness in the draft and willingness to move around to acquire talent... there’s unlimited potential for improvement.
With Luck at the helm alongside the coaching staff and veteran leadership currently on board, we can’t fail to have some measure of success when looking at the AFC picture as a whole. Our draft picks aren’t going to be in the Top 10, and shouldn’t hold the treasured status that they may have done prior to our massive improvement last year.
The worst thing for any franchise is to be locked into mediocrity at the quarterback position - because it tends to be rather expensive and has repercussions on the rest of the football team. It seems an appropriate topic given that I have the Superbowl on replay in the background - Joe Flacco is the very embodiment of this problem. He'll now demand $20m a year despite his faults and complete inconsistency in the regular season, likely limiting the Ravens franchise for the medium-term future. Steve Bisciotti knows that he has to pay the cost, even if it loses the team a pair of crucial contributors.
A more drastic example would be Mark Sanchez, need I elaborate. We certainly don't have that problem, and I don't think we're likely to for the next decade. So let's take advantage – we have a quarterback on $5m a year for the next three years who’s already close to breaking into the upper echelon at his position. We should be looking to go all-out in free agency and the draft, while also weighing the consideration of moving draft picks to acquire talent.
With an eye on the next fortnight, I'll be looking to write up All-22 breakdowns on three big WR free agents - Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace. If I could gather any sort of opinion regarding whom we should be targeting, I'll order them appropriately. The same goes for suggestions regarding other potential targets.
Great post! Excellent point about the strategic advantage of a cheep and talented QB, hopefully the Colts can use it to their advantage. I really hope they splash out money on a good pass rusher and a safety/cornerback. I think that $40 million will disappear pretty quickly though since the Colts need to be upgraded at nearly every position. Whatever happens this will be an intriguing off-season.
Collie needs to retire, hate to say it. I don't know if any team is going to take the risk on his health.
I agree.. But I think our new administration will go after that talent. Mike Wallace would be good.. Any word on Austin Collie?
I agree with Kyle and Randy. Getting Freeney back (if he signs for much less than before) would be nice. A too tier receiver or one with that potential would be awesome too. It should be an interesting offseason.
I don't think WR should be priority right now. We can work with wayne, hilton, brazil and the 2 TEs in the offense. We should however focus on O-line and defense,
I haven't seen anyone bring up Laron Landy. He could potentially leave the jets. What do people think about this?
@ABlueColt Landry may be worth a look. He was probowler this year and appears to have healed from his Achiles tendon injury from 2011
@codrutc @ABlueColt It's comical to me that Landry made the Pro Bowl and guys like Jairus Byrd (who made it as a replacement) and Eric Weddle weren't on the roster. Landry isn't even the best safety on his team IMO, I would rather have Ed Reed all else being equal, though Reed still isn't a great option. Obviously I would want Jairus Byrd above everyone, but I seriously doubt Buffalo doesn't franchise tag him at worst.
Another approach the Colts should take is to "bank" some of this cap space for the future. This can be done by structuring contracts to count bonuses in the year paid rather than over the entire length of the contract. There is a limit to how much a team can improve itself with one free agent class - as Grigson's former team has demonstrated. But stretching out the cap space can keep the window from Luck's rookie contract open for an extra year or two.
I am very skeptical about any free agent signing, call it "Bill Polian syndrome" if you will. I certainly don't like the idea of a declining Ed Reed with not much motivation after winning the Super Bowl, or any of the wide receivers mentioned.
@codrutc It's certainly not unreasonable to be skeptical but the fact is we are going to see some. The NFL instituted a minimum salary cap rule, which starts this year, that requires the Colts to spend roughly 90% of the salary cap. There's no way they can do that without signing at least a few big money free agents, or massively overpaying a lot of low level guys (which is to me the far less attractive option).
I think the Jets would be thrilled if Sanchez actually fit the "mediocrity at the quarterback position" bill. And I still want Mike Wallace. I think he has the potential to provide the best bang for the buck, albeit there is some risk there too. He won't be cheap, but he also won't be as expensive as many thought he was going to be a year ago. Losing the Arians connection hurts, though.
Rookie contracts can be redone with a year left on them. Luck's could be redone after the 2014 season.
@Lvl9LightSpell Are you sure about that? I thought the team had him at the contract through 4 years, with an option on the 5th?
@smonroe They do. All drafted rookies sign four-year contracts; first-rounders have an option for a fifth year. All undrafted rookies sign three year contracts. However, rookie contracts can be torn up and the player extended after two years for undrafted players, and three for drafted players. So if Luck says "Hey, redo my contract or I'm leaving in free agency," the soonest the Colts could redo his contract would be after the 2014 season.
The difficult part of having a ton of money this year is knowing you need to have a almost as much in 3 yrs to resign Luck. His cost increase is probably going to be over half of what's available this year. I don't know the CBA and whether the cap increases year-over-year. But if it remains relatively flat, then whoever they sign to big contracts will need to take fewer years. The issue w/ front loading contracts is the Chris Johnson syndrome for players to get money when they can, I'd put any WR into that category. I don't see any of those WR going after short contracts.
I think Grigson has the right idea... sign guys that show some promise, maybe overpay them a little bit but they fact they aren't household names won't give them the leverage for 4+ yr contracts. That gives the opportunity to value their play for a few years and if not up to par, let them go via free agency then the money is in the pot for Luck.... Rameses Barden, Kevin Ogletree, or Brian Hartline
As you say, the Colts are in such a unique position, having a franchise QB locked up for the next three years at such a "low" salary and so much cap space to work with.
I have never been a fan of big money, splashy Free Agent signings... but having Luck at this salary level changes everything. Do you risk big name signings over the next three years while Luck is such a bargain and try to hit lightining in a bottle?
The only thing i know for sure is that Grigson is going to earn his money this year.
Looking forward to it. But I'm really more interested in finding out which O linemen Grigs will target. Personally, I don't think the big name guys like Long are on our radar. I think Grigs will want steady guys who can stay on the field. Next, he needs to find a pass rusher if we're not keeping DF. Finally, help with. The D backfield. WR is low on my priority list, I hope it's low on the Colts list also.
I'd put it Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, and Mike Wallace in that order, though I don't think Jennings is realistic, and Wallace is kind of a better Hilton (better based on Hilton's rookie year, who knows how much he could improve). Bowe makes sense for a lot of reasons, IMO, but I also understand why people have naysayed the idea of signing a free agent WR, the history of FA WRs is sketchy at best (but we did see it work out for some teams this season, Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson comes to mind). I would love to see Bowe in a Colts jersey personally.
@Colt_Following I still think we should just focus on Wayne, Hilton, and our two TEs Fleener and Allen. A third WR option would be icing on the cake, but it's not absolutely necessary right now, in my opinion. O-line should have a higher priority because if Luck has the time, he'll find someone open. Fleener could split out wide if he has to, too.
Also, I just looked up the rookie year stats for T.Y. and Mike Wallace. They are *very* comparable to each other (ESPN stats):
Wallace (drafted in 3rd rd, 84th overall pick in 2009): 39 rec. on 72 targets for 756 yds., 19.4 yds. average, 6 TDs, 28 first downs, 1 fumble lost
Hilton (drafted in 3rd rd, 92nd overall pick in 2012): 50 rec. on 91 targets for 861 yds., 17.2 yds. average, 7 TDs, 30 first downs, 0 fumbles
Keep in mind, too, that these two WRs were in the same offense their rookie years (Arians offense), and they were used for the same purposes essentially.
@TheGreatMisdirect To be clear, I was saying Wallace is better NOW, not that Wallace was a better rookie. I don't see the value in having what basically amounts to 2 Hiltons (one, being Wallace, getting paid a lot more money). I think the Colts should prioritize other positions as well (OL, FS, CB, OLB in that order) but if they are going to sign a major FA WR I'd prefer it was Bowe (well I'd prefer Jennings but reports are that there's almost no chance of him actually hitting free agency).
The Colts might consider themselves set at the skill positions for the time being, and I'd be okay with that, but it's not unreasonable to start looking that direction when your #1 WR is going to be 35 by the time the season rolls around (granted, he had a great year at 34, but he's rapidly approaching that wall that everyone talks about, WRs just don't tend to be great after 35), your #2 is pretty bad and won't likely be with the team (Avery), and your #3 and #4 are both 2nd year players with upside but still largely unproven (Hilton and Brazill).
@Colt_Following Not keen on Bowe myself. Think a trio of Jennings, Wayne and Hilton would be pretty formidable, but i'm open to my mind changing with a prolonged look at each guy.
@Ben Savage Admittedly, I have watched very little tape on Bowe from this season (I followed him pretty closely in 2011 as he was on my fantasy team, and he was beastly at times), but he's shown an ability to put up solid production even with bad to awful QBing and no 2nd option (Dexter McCluster doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of defenses). PFF rated him +8.5 this season with the other two KC receivers, Baldwin and McCluster, pulling -2.4 and -4.1 grades respectively. He would probably have been ranked in PFFs top ten if he hadn't missed a few games (which I know is always a concern with Bowe).
Nobody outside of Reggie Wayne (who will be 35) was particularly effective for the Colts on a regular basis, yes, Hilton hit on a lot of big plays, but also missed on quite a few routine ones, he had as many drops as Wayne in less than half the # of targets. Donnie Avery was just kind of bad. If we don't keep Collie (and who knows what that situation is), I don't see a great #2 option on our roster currently. Sure the new system will involve the TEs a lot more (we hope), but WR should definitely be on the priority list going forward, if not this year than next, and Bowe fits the bill as a potential guy who could make a real difference and is still young enough to last a while. That's my opinion anyway.
@codrutc @Ben Savage I remember that game as well, and yes he dropped a couple of touchdowns, but it's a common misconception about him that he's a bad dropper, in fact his drop rate this season was good for 14th in the NFL, right behind Reggie Wayne and ahead of guys like AJ Green, Brandon Marshall, and Calvin Johnson.
In that 2010 season that you're referring to he also had a 3 game stretch in which he had 32 rec (11 per game), 465 yds (155 ypg), and 7 TD (~2 per game). That's the kind of upside I'm talking about, and that was with Matt Cassel throwing to him.
He's traditionally had boom or bust production, but when he booms he really booms. Give him a top tier QB to catch passes from and I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that he puts up top 5 WR numbers.