For all the talk last year of Andrew Luck replacing Peyton Manning, not much was written about offensive center Samson Satele replacing longtime Colts line captain Jeff Saturday in 2012. Saturday left Indianapolis following the 2011 season and signed with Green Bay. He lasted one season there before being released. He then signed a one-day contract with the Colts in March and retired.
Meanwhile, Satele was signed to a three-year, $10.8 million deal to replace Saturday during the 2012 offseason. Indianapolis also gave Satele a $3.2 million dollar signing bonus. That kind of money isn't for a player normally designated as a one-year stop gap.
However, might be what Satele ends up as in Indianapolis.
In the 3rd and 4th rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft, general manager Ryan Grigson selected two interior offensive linemen. One was USC center Khaled Holmes, taken No. 121 overall. There's debate among draftniks (and among Stampede Blue writers) about whether or not Holmes was worth that selection, but what isn't debatable is how high the Colts viewed Holmes on the third day of the draft.
A team doesn't pick an interior linemen in the 4th round "just cuz." They intend him to be their starting center at some point in the future. If not, then it was stupid to waste a valuable pick on said lineman, especially with players like LA Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton still on the board.
Swinging this back to Satele, his contract suggests that his base salary in 2013 will jump to $2.7 million. That's a $2 million "raise" over the $700K base salary he had last year. This is in addition to his signing bonus, which is spread out over the three years at roughly $1.06 mill a year.
What this means is after June 1st, Samson Satele will count $3.86 million against the Colts salary cap. He counted $1.86 mill last year.
If Indianapolis releases Satele before June 1st, they do not owe him his base salary of $2.7 million, and that salary does not count against the cap. What does count is the rest of his guaranteed bonus. He was paid $1.06 mill last year of a $3.2 million bonus, meaning there's roughly $2.13 mill left. If Satele is released pre-June 1st, the Colts will owe Satele that $2.13 mill balance and it will count against their cap. "Dead money," as they say.
However, if cutting Satele is counting $2.13 million towards the cap, but keeping him counts $3.2 mill, it's cheaper to send the 310 pound, seven-year veteran on his merry way than it is to retain him.
It also frees up roughly $1.7 million in cap space, providing Ryan Grigson with some flexibility should he wish to sign another team's June 1st cut down causality, or a veteran runningback sitting out on the market such as Ahmad Bradshaw.
All of this seems contingent on whether or not Khaled Holmes is as good as the Colts think he is, and the first chance coaches will have to see him is this weekend's rookie minicamp. If Holmes impresses, that might be all Ryan Grigson needs to help make his decision on Satele.
In 2012, Satele struggled as a pass blocker, and was a big reason why Andrew Luck was sacked 40-plus times. Satele also missed several games with lingering injuries, and while he was out, journeyman A.Q. Shipley stepped in and outplayed Satele at center. While Shipley was not better at run blocking compared to Satele - and to be fair to Samson, he really was a strong run blocker in 2012 - Shipley was better at protecting Luck.
In the end, that is the No. 1 priority of the offensive line: Protect Luck. Everything else is second.
Should Khaled Holmes prove to offensive line coach Joe Gilbert that he has the talent to protect Luck, Samson Satele becomes expendable. In fact, should the Colts 3rd round choice, OG Hugh Thornton, also showcase a knack for playing center -as National Football Post's Russ Lande thinks he can - keeping Satele makes no sense.
If both Holmes and Thornton struggle, or if Holmes isn't 100% healthy from the leg injury he sustained in 2012 at USC, the Colts could be forced to keep Satele after June 1st.
When all is said and done, this is a good "problem" to have. While Satele certainly struggled in 2012, he didn't abjectly stink, and for a Colts team looking to implement a power running game in 2013, Satele could thrive in that system. The issue isn't his ability. It's his price tag.
The harsh reality in the NFL is if general managers can get production from someone younger and cheaper over someone older and more expensive, they'll go with younger-cheaper.