Based on current estimates, the Colts have $31 million dollars to play with in free agency this year. Since we don't know exactly what the 2014 salary cap will be just yet, we're guesstimating that $31 mill number, but it seems accurate enough. This isn't taking into account all of Indianapolis' own free agents, such as Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee, and Antoine Bethea, just to name a few.
However, that number is not adjusted for certain Colts players that could, and likely should, get released soon because their 2014 cap hit does not match their talent level and/or projected productivity.
Three of the top ten cap hits for the Colts in 2014 belong to center Samson Satele, corner Greg Toler, and defensive end Ricky Jean Francois. All three will count $15 million against the cap next year, with Satele's number jumping from $3.8 mill in 2013 to $5 mill in 2014. However, if Satele is released, his "dead cap" number is only $1 million, meaning the Colts gain $4 mill to use on a player who, unlike Satele, can actually do something.
The numbers are similar for Toler and RJF. Cutting Toler saves $4.2 million while releasing RJF saves $3.3 million. Of the two, Toler is the most logical to cut. Just like his tenure in Arizona, Toler was injury prone and limited on the field for the Colts. He counts $4.8 mil against the cap if the Colts keep him, but his "dead cap" hit is only $666,000 if released.
Honestly, if Satele and Toler aren't cut, Ryan Grigson is hopeless as a general manager.
Adding $13.3 mill to the cap by releasing these under-achieving players give Grigson more options, especially when it comes to re-signing his own free agents.
But, why not go further?
Other inflated cap numbers include back-up quarterback Matt Hasselbeck ($3.75 mill) and Cory Redding (4.3 mill). Hasslebeck is a security blanket in the event Andrew Luck get hurt, but we're past the point of being fooled into believing the Colts are a playoff team - as presently constructed - without Andrew Luck at quarterback. This is a 5-win team with Hasselbeck under center. That's the stark, cold reality.
Redding is a valued veteran and was a reliable player on defense last year. In 2012, he was injury prone, which is understandable considering he'd been in the league for 10 years at that point. Now, he's a 12-year vet, and it's not realistic to expect Redding to duplicate his production from 2013 this upcoming season. Thus, his cap hit isn't justified.
If Hasselbeck and Redding are released, its saves the Colts $5 million in cap space. Added to the $13 million figure we get from cutting Satele, Toler, and RJF, and suddenly $31 million in cap space turns into $48 million. This money would allow Ryan Grigson an opportunity to atone for the near-disastrous free agent class he inked last year. I stress near-disastrous because Grigson, to his credit, managed to structure the contracts of many of these players to make it easier for the team to release them in 2014.
The est example of this is Toler. The worst is Erik Walden. His $4.25 mill cap hit is on the books in 2014 whether he plays or not. If he's cut in 2015, he saves the Colts nearly $4 mill. Basically, he's getting cut in 2015, and we're stuck with him now.
Suddenly, receivers like Emmanuel Sanders, Hakeem Nicks, or Erik Decker are options along with defensive end Tyson Jackson and/or safety Jarius Byrd. If Grigson goes with cheaper options at less vital positions - like Dan Orlovsky or Matt Flynn at back-up quarterback - he can stretch his dollar even more.
The point here is, with the Colts having only a two-year window with the team constructed as is, Ryan Grigson cannot afford to waste money on mediocre/poor talent. Last season, he blew it in free agency. This year, he must get it right.
Otherwise, the window will close and someone else will likely be doing Grigson's job when Andrew Luck becomes a free agent in 2015.