4:00PM, March 11th, 2014 is fast approaching. Like most of you, I can hardly control my excitement. I love to play through different free agency scenarios. I built a Cap Table (which I will share with everyone in this post) last fall. With free agency just a week away I would like to share my very first 2014 simulated off-season scenario.
Now, I do have a set of rules when working through these scenario's. I did break those rules at least once here. But, let me explain them to you anyway. The purpose of these rules is to keep the guessing as realistic as possible. Of course, we all would love for Indianapolis to tender Jimmy Graham. Or, for them to sign Jairus Byrd, Alex Mack, Aqib Talib, Arthur Jones, Brandon Spikes, & Golden Tate. I'm not going to eliminate any of those players as potentially a future Colt. But, the reality of it is, all of those players are young, talented, and their current franchises have enough cap space to retain them. So, the rules are established to eliminate speculation as to which players might resign with their own team, or become franchise tagged. Here are the rules:
1. Any player 28-years-old or younger is ineligible if their current team has at least $15M in available cap space.
2. I'm just not interested in anyone else's free agents over the age of 28. Maybe the Colts are. But, I'm not going there. I "build" for the now and the future. Not just the now.
3. The Colts have approximately $40.9M in cap space. I maintain a floor of $10M in available cap.
4. All cap figures are provided by Spotrac.com. "Marquee" free agent signings are based on the highest contracts signed in 2013 at the same position (The names of which I will provide). All other players (including Colts free agents) are based on comparable players via my best guess. All contract figures have been increased by 15% from 2013. Lastly, for the 3 "marquee" free agents, salary numbers based on Year 2 of a comparable contract ("front loaded" a little bit).
One last thing. I blogged the other day a few draft targets based on CBSSports.com draft grades. I went ahead and inserted the two players highest on my list for picks 59, and 90. So, without further ado, I'd like to share with you my four 2014 free agent targets. As well as my eight Colts players I would retain. I've provided simulated "Cap Hit" numbers for 2014, as well as the 2013 free agent contract those numbers were based off of.
1. Guard, Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs, $9.89M
WOW! That's a big number, I know. But, with an over 15% cap increase this season (and a lot of money to work with) the Colts can afford to front load some of their contracts a little bit. Take the burden off future seasons, if you will. If I were Ryan Grigson I'd be bankrupt by now because I would have to have paid so many tampering fines handed out by the NFL. Since the beginning of the 2013 season I've targeted Asamoah as a solution to so many of the Colts problems. He's a top 15 guard in the league. And, Kansas City has some salary cap restraints. Asamoah will be 26 by the end of the month. So, he can become a staple of the Indianapolis Colts offensive line for years to come.
Contract based on: OG, Andy Levitre, Tennessee Titans
2. Center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay Packers, $5.175M
Okay, so here is one place where I broke the rules. The Packers have more than enough cap space to retain Dietrich-Smith. But, a couple people here on Stampede Blue have proposed D.-Smith could be a target for the Colts in free agency. If he's not there, a player who would fit into my rules would be New Orleans' Brian De La Puente. D.-Smith ranked 10th last season by Pro Football Focus for centers, where De La Puente still ranked 15th (Samson Satele ranked 32nd). In addition to "signing" Dietrich-Smith, I also cut Samson Satele. Satele's contract carries over a little more than $1M in dead cap penalty into 2015. But, I'd eat it. He has been less than sub-par in Indianapolis. Hopefully we get it right this time with Dietrich-Smith.
Contract based on: OC, Chris Myers, Houston Texans (2012)
3. Cornerback, Terrell Brown, San Francisco 49ers, $5.75M
Greg Toler quite literally ripped off the Indianapolis Colts in 2013. He spent at least half the entire season in the locker room with a groin injury. Once the World's most intelligent and prestigious doctors were able to reassemble Toler's evidently decimated groin he returned to the field... and sucked miserably. In fact, Greg Toler saved Josh Gordy's career in my opinion. So, like the Dietrich-Smith/Satele situation, I'm throwing Toler in the garbage and starting over. Toler's 2013 salary was 100% guaranteed. Left over is $9.916M in salary and bonus the next two seasons, only $666,667 of which is guaranteed. I'm eating that too. Insert Terrell Brown, hopefully snatched up on a 3-year contract or so. Hopefully he can be an improvement over Darius Butler on the outside. And, I'm drafting a corner to hopefully succeed him in this year's draft.
Contract based on: CB, Keenan Lewis, New Orleans Saints
4. Inside Linebacker, Arthur Moats, Buffalo Bills, $1.76M
2014 is all about redemption. Redemption for past mistakes. I would never say that trading away Jerry Hughes was a mistake. But, Kelvin Sheppard was less than impressive for Indianapolis in 2013. I'm not giving up on Sheppard. I'm keeping him on the roster as a really expensive back-up. I still think he can contribute. In fact, while I groom my 3rd round draft pick ILB, Sheppard will work in rotation with Moats. I don't know if Indianapolis was exactly playing to Sheppard's strengths in 2013. But, they often used him in early downs as a run stopper. Moats strength comes on passing downs as a rusher. Arthur has produced 5 sacks the past two seasons with only 4 starts but has fallen out of favor in Buffalo. I'm not saying that as a knock on Moats necessarily, either (though it could be). The team has changed defensive schemes 3 times in the past few seasons. And, with the emergence of Kiko Alonso Buffalo has no real reason to keep Moats around. When he saw the field this season Moats garnered positive (yet very modest) grades from Pro Football Focus. For that reason, I'm adding him to my linebacker rotation for a realitively cheap asking price. Buffalo also has plenty of cap space to retain Moats. So, this would be a second time in which I broke my own rules. But, it's a little bit of a different situation when your speculating on a depth free agent rather than a "marquee" name. Right?
Contract based on: MLB, Moise Fokou, Tennessee Titans
5. Wide Receiver, Eric Decker, Denver Broncos, $8.05M No, I didn't make a typo earlier. I said "my 4 free agent targets." I meant it too. Decker is not on my list... although he's on my list right now. I've added Decker more or less just to open up a discussion on my perception of the Colts wide receivers entering the 2014 season. If the Colts are going to pay a free agent wide receiver more than $3-4M this season... I don't want him. The Colts have wasted millions of dollar the past two seasons for Donnie Avery & Darrius Heyward-Bey to drop passes from Andrew Luck. And, at the end of the day Reggie Wayne is still 35-years-old and the only player even remotely capable of taking his place in the future is T.Y. Hilton. I've stated before on this blog I like Da'Rick Rogers. Although he looked and played like a rookie in 2013, his tape from Tennessee in 2011 shows promise that if given the time and support Rogers can develop into a true #2 or even #1 wide receiver for Indianapolis. New England is paying Danny Amendola an average of $5.7M/yr. That is the lowest average cap hit of the top 4 free agent receivers in 2013. In my opinion, Decker isn't worth even the $5.7M. Actually, it's my opinion that Decker's clone is hiding in the 3rd or 4th round of this draft in the form of Saginaw Valley receiver, Jeff Janis. Where a lot of internet commentary has pegged Indianapolis as a landing site for Eric Decker I say, "Keep your money. And, draft Jeff Janis instead." Janis is most likely a 3rd round pick. And, I like Ryan Grigson's track record when trading into the 3rd round to draft wide receivers (see T.Y. Hilton). But, for those of you who REALLY think the Colts needs a wide receiver in free agency... here. Have Eric Decker.
Contract based on: WR, Greg Jennings, Minnesota Vikings
Well, that was fun, huh? It seems we've solidified the interior line for Andrew Luck. And, hopefully we'll be able to open up some running lanes for a backfield that includes Trent Richardson, whom two teams have spent a first round draft pick on. But, at lot remains incomplete on our simulated 2014 Colts roster. So, let's discuss the 8 players still currently under contract who I'm keeping around for the next season.
1. Cornerback, Vontae Davis, $5.75M
Not much needs to be said here. If the Colts fail to reach an agreement with Vontae Davis they're screwed. Well, for the most part. If the Colts can't reach a deal with Davis by Monday they may feel the need to designate him a franchise player. That will cost them $11.834M which is ok, I guess. Unfortunately though, we wouldn't have enough cap space to sign Eric Decker. But, oh well. Like I said before, if I'm Indianapolis I'm going to try to front load some of Davis' contract. Given the caliber player that he is and the nature of the NFL Davis has earned a rather lucrative contract. In order to apease him Indianapolis is going to have to pay him. Hopefully they can just eat up some of that burden from future seasons this year while they've got an abudance of salary space.
Contract based on: CB, Keenan Lewis, New Orleans Saints
2. Safety, Antoine Bethea, $6.613M
Two months ago I would have told you, "Better put your Bethea jerseys on eBay while you still can." But, after scoping the safety situation in 2014 Indianapolis needs to get a deal done with Bethea. Antoine's biggest fallout in Indianapolis hasn't been his play in my opinion. It's been Chuck Pagano's defense. Same thing, I know. But, he's just not a great fit. And frankly, when Bethea has been most affective his supporting cast has been much better also. The fact is though that the Colts have very limited options in the draft to replace Bethea. As much can be said about the free agent market as well. And, although some purport that Indianapolis may opt to move forward with Delano Howell consider Howell was available for 6 games last season before being placed on IR. And, Bethea has only missed 4 games his entire NFL career. Couple Howell's 37% show rate last season with the 17% chance Laron Landry won't be available on Sunday's either, and Bethea is an increasingly greater commodity. Regardless of how anti-Ed Reed Bethea is, he's still a starting safety on most any NFL team in the league. If I'm Ryan Grigson I'm trying to tie up Bethea with a 2-3 year deal. I'll pay him good money. But, everyone understands he can't continue in Indianapolis playing at the level of affectiveness he has the past two seasons. Hey, maybe the third time's a charm?
Contract based on: S, Laron Landry, Indianapolis Colts
3. Punter, Pat McAfee, $1.53M
We can be brief here. This is a punter and kickoff specialist we're talking about after all. Here's my thoughts on the matter. It's anybodies guess as to whether or not the Colts retain Adam Vinatieri. He's expensive. And, the Colts used their franchise tag on McAfee last season. So, they've already shown an interest in retaining Pat before. Plus, a team making strides at truly contending in the playoffs doesn't need a total and complete overall on their special teams. If Indianapolis is going to bring in a young new kicker, possibly via the draft, a veteran presence will be important. McAfee considers himself a placekicker before a punter. So, he's got plenty of wisdom and value worth locking in to a long term contract.
Contract based on: P, Shane Lechler, Houston Texans
4. Nose Tackle, Aubrayo Franklin, $1.23M
Franklin played well for the most part in 2013. I don't know how the Colts feel about Josh Chapman moving forward. But, one thing I thought I might have observed about him last season was a small gas tank. Chapman seemed to wear down quickly if he got caught on the field against a hurry-up offense. Given his size, I might be more concerned if he didn't seem tired. "What the hell is that thing!?" right? But, regardless of whether he can become an every down nose tackle is anyone's guess. The Colts have under contract through 2014 Ricky Jean-Francoise, Montori Hughes, and Jeris Pendleton all of whom played nose tackle at least a few snaps in 2013. Indy might just feel like rolling with that. But, why not lock up a little insurance in 2013's starter, Franklin. I'm sure a lot of people are keying in on the connection between Terrence "Mount" Cody and Chuck Pagano. I am too. But, there are two reasons that Franklin is on this list and Cody isn't. First, Cody breaks the rules. Baltimore has approximately $28M in cap space. Neither Indianapolis nor Baltimore is going to pay a whole lot for Cody. So, why speculate that he won't stay? Secondly, there really is no distinction between Cody & Chapman. Chapman succeeded Cody as nose tackle for the Crimson Tide. And, both tip the scales at 340lbs. The only thing Cody provides is an extra 4" of height. Not to mention, Baltimore spent a 2nd round draft pick on him. Chances are they're going to want to keep him given Haloti Ngata's age, and the accessibility of a servicable nose tackle. In the off-season Chapman seemed poised to add some pass rush to the interior of the Colts defensive line. Turns out... the Colts offensive line just sucked. So, the fact still remains that neither Chapman or Cody are worth 2 cents in passing situations. So, why speculate? Resign Franklin.
Contract based on: Aubrayo Franklin, Indianapolis Colts (Yep.)
5. Outside Linebacker, Cam Johnson, $833k
In a roundabout way the Colts essentially traded Ceasar Rayford to the Dallas Cowboys to acquire Cam Johnson from the 49ers last season. Johnson is a young very large outside linebacker prospect for Indianapolis. At 6'3 nearly 270lbs Johnson is a much closer comparison to a Terrell Suggs type player. Ever since I saw it I've always had the image in my head during a Colts game last season when Johnson ran off the field (most likely after a punt) and went and stood next to Chuck Pagano. Johnson looked like a monster next to Coach P. Johnson didn't do much of anything in 2013 to note. But, nobody really expected the former 7th round pick to anyway. Might as well keep some depth at the position (especially given Robert Mathis' age) and continue to develop Johnson and see what you get out of it.
Contract based on: DE, Edgar Jones, Dallas Cowboys
6. Safety, Sergio Brown, $1.01M
Sergio was Coach Pagano's little buddy last season, huh? In all seriousness, Indianapolis has done a pretty good job scouting special teams aces like Brown. Before him there was Joe Lefeged. It was almost like a "Unitas to Berry" type Tandem. McAfee to Lefeged. Then, McAfee to Brown. Downing puts inside the 10. Teams need players like Brown. He works hard. He's got a high motor. And, he takes pride in his special teams work. If need be, Pagano will lobby to keep Brown around. I probably overpaid him a little bit.
Contract based on: S, Raymond Ventrone, San Francisco 49ers
7. Tackle, Joe Reitz, $966k
The Colts added guard Lance Louis recently. He's a name I recognize. But, a player I don't know much about. What I do know is Xavier Nixon has already displayed the ability to bump inside from his native tackle position and play the interior. Reitz, a former basketball player, has been a project his whole career and too has spent time inside and out. Versatility is one of the most important assets in a back-up. And, Reitz has been servicable in that regard for the Colts. So, I'm keeping him.
Contract based on: OT, Khalif Barnes, Oakland Raiders
8. Cornerback, Josh Gordy, $891k
The Colts corner situation has been plain abysmal post the 2007 season. Hell, I'll go as far as to say that 2009 was a promising season. Believe whatever you want, but Jerraud Powers won the starting role away from a recovering Marlin Jackson. Then, when Kelvin Hayden went down and UDFA Jacob Lacey was asked to step in we were all pleasantly surprised. But, what seemed like "the future" in two rookie starting corners turned out to be fluff. Opposing quarterbacks were quick to exploit Lacey (despite this, Detroit still attempted to start him). And, Powers was about as durable as Bob Sanders. It also seemed he always got seriously injuried right before the playoffs. And by seriously I mean, didn't he break a toe or something and miss the playoffs once? Geesh. Now, since acquiring Vontae Davis the Colts have struggled to find players worthy of the bench much less starters opposite Davis. Two instances this season Gordy was asked to contribute in the absence of Darius Butler. It would seem evident throughout 2012 that Gordy gained favor among the Colts coaching staff over 2012's starter, Cassius Vaughn. And, I think he warranted that recognition. I'd really prefer it if Josh Gordy never has to start a game for Indianapolis. But, I view him as a player about as good as Jacob Lacey. So, given the Colts complete inability to stock even decent prospects at the position I say keep Gordy. He's a player that has seen the field in emergency situations. And, name one instance where he really screwed anything up. That seems valuable to me.
Contract based on: CB, Phillip Adams, Oakland Raiders
I appreciate you sticking with me this long if you have. As promised in the beginning, I'm also going to share the link to the Cap Table I've used to keep track of all of this. It's a Google Drive Spreadsheet. Very self explanatory. Players signed via free agency are in RED. Players resigned from the Colts are in GREEN. And, the two simulated draft players are in BLUE. The link is below:
2014 Colts Cap Table
Thanks a lot for reading. Next up will be "Chris Polian Trades Away Richard Sherman: the Untold Story." You can check me out on Twitter, @Ross_Wheatley. Thanks!