It's a question I'm sure more than a few Colts fans are asking: Can general manager Ryan Grigson manage the remaining cap he has available to acquire both Browns center Alex Mack and Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks?
The simple answer is yes, he can. The more complicated answer is yes, but at a price.
The usually reliable OverTheCap.com has the Colts sitting with about $26 million in cap space for 2014. However, while the site notes Arthur Jones' new 5-year deal, the cap number does not account for the massive 4-year, $39 million deal that cornerback Vontae Davis agreed to. The likely reasons for this discrepancy is that Davis has not officially signed his new contract yet. Until ink is on the paper, the numbers stay at $26 million. If you factor in Davis' deal, which pays him at or slightly over $9 million a season, Grigson actually has about $17 million in cap space to work with.
That's not a lot, but it's also not a dire position to be in.
For starters, it seems any contract offer for Mack would have to be in-line with what the Texans gave Chris Myers in 2012: 4 years, $25 million. If Mack is looking for the kind of deal the Panthers gave Ryan Kalil back in 2011 (6 years, $49 million), I would think that's a deal-breaker. That's a ton of bread for a center, and when you factor in that the Colts have already 5 years, $35 million invested in right tackle Gosder Cherilus and 4 years, $14 million in left guard Donald Thomas
But, it's clear that the Colts are indeed interested in signing Mack, and given Ryan Grigson penchant for being generous with team owner Jim Irsay's money, we'll just assume the Colts' brain trust is okey-dokey with a $30 million center, not a $50 million one.
At present, Mack has the transition tag applied to him, meaning he will earn $10 million from the Browns and will count that much against their cap. Any offer the Colts sign Mack to, the Browns will have the option to match it. So, naturally, it's within Indy's best interest to make the offer so BIG that Cleveland will opt not to match. The problem with this is Cleveland has about $35-$40 million in cap space right now even with Mack counting $10 million against it. So, if the Browns really want to keep Mack, they can.
But, let's assume they're cool with him walking. The Colts ink Mack to, say, a 4 year deal worth $30 million, with $18 million guaranteed. Grigson can structure Mack's contract to count $5 mill against the cap this year, and then have it escalate in the following. Mack's 28-years-old, and he has no significant injury history. Thus, you're expecting him to be with the team for those 4 years. He's a short and long-term investment.
Mack cap hit for 2014: $5 million
Next is Hakeem Nicks, who has expressed interest in signing a one-year deal that would allow him the opportunity to use the 2014 season as a "prove it" year. In his mind, he'll show the world that he is healthy, catch 70+ passes and 10 touchdowns from Andrew Luck, and then hit the open market next year so that he can make a fortune.
One team that, like the Colts, is interested in Nicks' services is the Carolina Panthers. According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:
With Steve Smith on way out of CAR, Panthers still talking to Hakeem Nicks. Offering deal worth about $4.5M/season. Badly need WRs— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2014
A team like Carolina wants Nicks to commit to more than one year, with the contract likely front-loaded in case Nicks plays like he's been doing the last two seasons. If Nicks returns to his old self, Carolina retains his rights for another year or two at a cheap price.
Unless Nicks and his agent are stupid - and I don't assume they are - they'll say no to this.
A one-year deal worth anywhere from $4.5-$6 million makes sense. Nicks gets paid a handsome sum for his one year audition. If he's healthy, and if he shows the Colts that the old Nicks is back, he'll make serious money in 2015.
Nicks cap hit for 2014: $5.5 million
That puts the combined cap hits of Mack and Nicks at $11.5 million, leaving Grigson $5.5 million to rope in a few low-priced free agents. If Grigson wants to free up more cap space, he can release veterans Greg Toler (saves $4.2 mill), Ricky Jean-Francois (saves $3.3 mill), Matt Hasselbeck ($2.25 mill), or Cory Redding ($2.6 mill).
As you can see, Grigson has options. It really just comes down to what he thinks is most important, and how he wants to structure Mack's contract. There's also several outside variables, such as Cleveland being able to match any offer for Mack and whether or not Nicks wants to play on a one-year deal. There's also the matter of the Colts signing former Cowboys center Phil Costa.
As far as Alex Mack goes, the door isn't officially shut w Colts pursuing him, but it drastically reduces it, according to league source— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNFL) March 13, 2014
So, again, there are a lot of variables. But, if the Colts truly want to sign both Mack and Nicks, they do indeed have the cap flexibility.
* Note: in a previous article discussing Alex Mack, I said the Colts might have to sign him to a 6-year, $50 million deal because of Matt Kalil. This was hilariously and stupidly wrong on my part, and it was basically me getting Kalil (who is a left tackle for the Vikings) mixed up with Ryan Kalil, center for the Panthers. Ryan did indeed receive a $49 million deal from the Panthers in 2011. I beg forgiveness.