As we discuss potential off-season moves, a lot of time will be spent on "value." What constitutes good value? Who is overpaid? Where do we need to invest?
With this in mind, I decided to take a financial analyst's approach to retooling the Colts roster. I grabbed salary data for the 31 other teams in the NFL and looked at where teams were investing by position. I then isolated the 4 participants in the NFC and AFC Championship games. Finally, I added the breakdown for the 2013 Colts roster. The data is below.
Cap Allocation by Position - Percent of Total
TE - Colts have relatively little invested in this position. This is largely because both Allen and Fleener are still on rookie contracts. In spite of this, the Colts get good production from the TE position. This is clearly a core strength for the current roster.
DL - I think it is appropriate to combine DE and DT when talking about DL investment given the difference in schemes. 4-3 DEs tend to outpace the market here rather significantly, so it makes sense that a 3-4 team would be on the lighter side. However, the Colts are very significantly below the average when compared to both the average and the best teams in the NFL. Given the relatively mediocre performance from this group, this seems like a place to pony up some cash.
S - The Colts are significantly above average in cap allocation here. The Laron Landry signing has turned out to be a bust, but this suggests that perhaps it never should have been considered in the first place. Teams, even ones with great secondaries, seem to be investing somewhat sparsely in the center field position.
OL - No surprise that the Colts are slightly under-invested here, given the poor performance. However, this is the one real standout when comparing the best NFL teams to the average ones. The top teams are investing over $2 million more on the OL than are other teams! Perhaps it is too obvious to point out that the Colts need to invest more in the OL, but this provides the benchmark of just how much more.
A Modest Proposal -
The Colts have north of $30 million in available cap. With some projected cuts and inevitable roster turnover, this could balloon to over $40 million. With our data in hand, how best might this be allocated?
Defensive Line - 2 players @ $12 Million
Even with the disdain for RJF's contract, the Colts have so few cap dollars assigned here that it begs for an upgrade. This a hard sell because none of the players on the DL stand out as truly awful, but there is room to improve everywhere. If this team really intends to build a grinding rock-solid defense, a major step up in talent is needed.
Paul Soliai - NT - $6.00 million
Arthur Jones - DE - $6.00 million
Offensive Line - 2 players @ $10.75 Million
It is roundly assumed that Samson Satele will be cut which releases $4 million of cap. With the Colts already somewhat below the average here, this suggests that an investment in excess of $10 million should be put toward some offensive beef. This is a powerful argument for those who favor, as I do, making a hard push for Alex Mack.
Cut Samson Satele $4.00 million.
Sign Alex Mack - C - $8.00 million
Sign Jon Asamoah - OG - $2.75 million
Safety - 1 player @ $2.00 million + 6th round pick
Ok... here is the part where everyone starts to go ape-sh!t. I know a lot of people want a big name safety like Byrd or Ward. Those players are likely to command $7-8 million for their services. Couple that with Landry's bloated contract and it starts to get ugly. The average NFL team has only $7 million invested at the position TOTAL! The best teams only slightly more ($8 million.) This is a weakness for the Colts certainly, but the fix is not throwing good money after bad. This position requires investing wisely and modestly while looking for help in the draft.
Mike Mitchell - FS - $2.00 million
Alden Darby - SS - Round 6 - Arizona St.
Wide Receiver - 1 player @ $4.00 million + 2nd round pick
And if you aren't screaming at me yet.... you are now. With DHB's contract expiring it both frees up some money and a starting position in the offense. Most teams are spending 11% of the cap at the WR position. If the Colts follow a similar allocation they can go after a mid tier FA in addition to grabbing a young prospect in the draft. I am assuming Wayne is retained, but we need a heir waiting in the wings. Hilton is a special player, but does not have a complete skill set. No one player can replace Reggie's production when he retires, but perhaps the combination of several can do so. I am going for a high upside FA on a "prove it" deal and picking a big possession receiver to complement Hilton over the long haul.
Hakeem Nicks - WR - $4.00 million
Jordan Matthews - WR - Round 2 - Vandy
Corner Back - Resign Davis. Release Toler. 5th round pick.
The Colts do not differ substantially from the average here, but that is deceptive since Vontae Davis is in for a big payday. I am assuming Davis will command $7 million or more. Retaining both he and Toler would commit nearly $16 million to the position which outpaces most every team in the league. Toler has not been awful in my opinion, but his nearly $5 million in salary is too punitive. The does leave us with only Darius Butler across from Davis, which makes me a bit nervous. I am also suggesting resigning Josh Gordy and spending a 5th rounder on a CB.
Cut Greg Toler - $4.2 million
Resign Vontae Davis - $7 million.
Resign Josh Gordy - $750k
Walt Aikens - CB - Liberty - 5th Round
Line Backer -Cut Kelvin Sheppard. 3rd round pick
The Colts have a lot of cap dollars committed here, but in this case I think it is justified given the superstar status of Robert Mathis. I think many of us would identify ILB as a position of need. Even so releasing Kelvin Sheppard would save $1.4 million against the cap, and this seems like a prudent and thrifty move. Looking for quality at a cheap price begs for an early round draft pick. Expecting a 3rd rounder to start immediately beside Freeman is a big ask, but I think this guy can handle it.
Cut Kelvin Sheppard - $1.4 million
Chris Borland - ILB - 3rd Round - Wisconsin
Running Back - 7th round pick
Rounding out the roster, we need a new 3rd down back assuming Brown and Bradshaw are not retained.
Silas Redd - RB - 7th Round - USC
Following the moves I have laid out with some other normal roster churn, the Colts spending break down becomes much more efficient when compared to the league.
The roster itself, is not perfect. There is a clear weakness at #2CB and SS (unless Landry decides to live up to his contract.) Even so, the roster is deep and well fortified across the board.