In 2004, the Indianapolis Colts placed the franchise tag on quarterback Peyton Manning as a precaution while the organization finalized an eventual 7-year, $98 million deal with the star QB. The timing of the events in between is beginning to feel a lot like the present.
On Feb. 23, 2004, the Colts decided to place the tag on Manning. Five days later on Feb. 28, 2004, the Colts released five players to free up nearly $15 million in cap space. Among those five players were veteran defensive end Chad Bratzke, cornerback Walt Harris and offensive tackle Adam Meadows. While none of the three players were considered elite, they all played key roles at key positions for the team and were let go. Just four days later on March 3, 2004, the Colts agreed with Manning on his 7-year, $98 million deal.
Fast-forward to now and the Colts are repeating a bit of history. Manning was tagged on Feb. 15. Veteran safety Bob Sanders gets released just three days later, Feb. 18. Cutting Sanders freed up about $5 million in cap space, but not nearly as much as the $15 million the Colts freed up in 2004 before signing Manning.
So... who is next?
If history really does repeat itself, then the Colts are slated to release more players, and soon. More cuts are likely necessary to make room for Manning's deal and create the flexibility to sign free agents.
After the jump: Which players could lose their job?
Cutting offensive tackle Ryan Diem makes the most sense. The Colts can clear another $5 million in cap space by letting him go. Replacing Diem's production -- or lack thereof -- shouldn't be too daunting of a task. It would be more of a risk to pay the guy $5 million after how bad he performed in 2010. When the Colts cut Meadows, he was going on 31-years-old; Diem is going on 32.
Many would argue cornerback Kelvin Hayden doesn't deserve the near $9 million he stands to make in 2011. Releasing Hayden would accumulate roughly $6 million more in cap space for the Colts, but would put the team down a solid NFL cornerback. This could be a risk team brass is willing to make, though, as Hayden hasn't been playing his best football and continues to sit a lot, missing 18 regular season games in the last three years. If GM Bill Polian is high on Kevin Thomas or thinks he can find a replacement for Hayden through the draft, this is a cost-cutting move he could be willing to make.
The only other players with cap numbers worthy of shedding would include wide receiver Reggie Wayne (would free $6 million), defensive end Robert Mathis (frees up about $2.5 million) and center Jeff Saturday (frees another $2.5 million). All three players are coincidentally in the last year of their deals. Cutting Wayne clears a lot of space, but finding his replacement could take a whole year. Releasing Mathis or Saturday (or both) doesn't exactly create a ton of cap space, and finding their replacement on the fly doesn't seem worth it. While I think all three will play out the final year of their contracts, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility one could be cut if Polian believes he can go in another direction.
This next week and a half could prove as a history lesson in the Irsay/Polian management era and a lesson learned that the NFL truly is a business in the end; a harsh one.