Why Have the Colts Stopped Spending?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts have suddenly stopped spending money on free agents despite having an estimated $13 million left. Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson writes about why it might very well be in preparation for the future.

The Colts started off very active in free agency, bringing in new players D'Qwell Jackson, Arthur Jones, Hakeem Nicks, and Phil Costa (next week I will have free agent profiles on each of the new players).  The Colts also re-signed Vontae Davis, Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee, Fili Moala, Sergio Brown, and Ahmad Bradshaw.  But recently, they haven't been active at all and it seems like they are, for the most part, done in free agency.  General manager Ryan Grigson sure made it seem that way in a conference call two weeks ago, saying:

"You never say you're done, but if something pops up, I'm always looking at it. If one of my guys brings me a name that is of interest, I'll look at him. We had a plan in place and we feel really good about it. We feel real good where we are at right now. Of course, we are going to look towards the draft, but again you never say never. We are always trying to get better. If somebody pops up here and they make sense from a roster standpoint and they fit the specs - age, and money, and big picture, then I'll look at it."

Some will suggest that the Colts lack of activity in free agency recently has been because Jim Irsay is not around the team currently, but I don't think that is the case.  If it turns out that Irsay played such an integral role in adding players that they can't (or won't) do so without him, then it will be a much bigger shock to me than his arrest.  I wasn't too surprised to find out about his struggles (just saddened), but I would be shocked if Irsay's role and presence within the organization is such that they can't function without him.  Everything we've been hearing about how the team works for the past several years would be wrong.  I don't think the Colts lack of spending has much to do with Irsay's absence - although, certainly, it's not ideal.

No, I instead see a very plausible football reason for the Colts suddenly stopping spending money despite having an estimated $13 million left in cap room.  With noticeable holes at center and free safety, why would the Colts suddenly stop signing players and instead wait it out while Grigson talks up Khaled Holmes at center and Delano Howell at safety, making it seem even more likely that those two players could wind up starting (I've written about both, looking at Holmes potentially starting, as well as Howell potentially starting).  I've stated publicly that if the Colts fail to upgrade the center position after the money they had to spend, it would have been a big failure.  But it's looking more and more like they might not add any more free agents, or at least not any more big name ones.  Why would they not spend the money they have?

Here's a very possible scenario that reads nothing into Jim Irsay's absence but everything into the very thing that Ryan Grigson has said the entire offseason: they need to prepare for the future.  In his season-ending press conference on January 16, he was asked about whether the Colts would begin to prepare for the day when they would need to re-sign quarterback Andrew Luck:

"Of course. You have to be smart about, we're always forward thinking. We're always, before we make any type of move, are looking down the line. Because you don't want to hamstring yourself and you don't want to lose your franchise. So obviously I have very smart people around me that remind me, including our owner. So we'll be smart about that and we'll make sure that we keep our best players here as best we can."

About a month later, on February 21, Grigson also talked about preparing for future contracts:

"It's not hard to tighten your belt when you're looking at what we're looking at in '15 and '16. In future years, we have some key, key young talent - not to even give you any names; you know who they are - that we're going to have to re-sign. So we have to be very prudent and fiscally sound in how we move forward. We still have a plan in place and if there's a chance for us to get better at any position group, we're going to try to get better, if it makes sense from a fiscal standpoint for the club."

Shortly after free agency began, I wrote about how the fact that the Colts were primarily keeping their own players shows that they are close:

"I admit that I'm very much a proponent of the Bill Polian style of building a team - that is, through the draft.  I also see a need at times, however, to spend in free agency.  When a team builds through the draft and then spends in free agency to keep their own players, to me that's a clear sign that they're close.

"Close to what, you might ask?  Close to being a championship team, or at least one that contends for a title.  And that's precisely where I think the Colts are - holes and all."

Keeping with the theme of re-signing their own, here are some notable names coming up in the next two years that will be due for new contracts.  Keep in mind this isn't a complete list but rather one of some notable names I gathered.  For the complete list, check out spotrac's database here.

Colts Upcoming Free Agents
2015 2016

Reggie Wayne, WR

Robert Mathis, OLB
Cory Redding, DL Andrew Luck, QB
Hakeem Nicks, WR Greg Toler, CB
Darius Butler, CB Trent Richardson, RB
Anthony Castonzo, LT Adam Vinatieri, K
Jerrell Freeman, ILB Coby Fleener, TE
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Dwayne Allen, TE
Delano Howell, S T.Y. Hilton, WR
Stanley Havili, FB Josh Chapman, NT
Josh Gordy, CB Vick Ballard, RB
Joe Reitz, OL LaVon Brazill, WR

I guarantee you that if I posed the question, "what is the foundation the Colts are building on?" you would answer with the name of someone on the above list.  Pretty much everyone would say Andrew Luck, but then if you named other players you would name guys like T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Jerrell Freeman, etc.  Each one of them is up for a new deal in the next two offseasons, along with others.

It's much easier to see now, I hope, why the good teams keep their own.  It's because their own are good, and the money is consumed in those areas.  There are numerous names on the above list that I would take over any of the current free agents right now.

Relatively new to the NFL under the new CBA is the ability to carry over cap space from one year to the next.  A team must meet the minimum spend requirements (89% of the cap over a four-year span) but other than that, teams can now choose to carry over remaining cap space from one year to the next - which makes perfect sense.

What Ryan Grigson is trying to do now is build a championship team while also trying to make sure that they can keep the most crucial piece of that team, Andrew Luck.  In addition to that, several of Luck's best teammates are up for a new deal in the coming years.  Grigson has been structuring contracts in preparation for the coming years, but it also would make sense for him to carry over some money from this year to next year.  He's taking a risk in not addressing the center or safety positions any further, but I think the most likely reason he is doing so is in preparation for future contracts that he knows he will have to give out.

Complain and gripe all you want about the Colts not adding a center or a safety, but it's a real possibility that the reason for that has a lot to do with Grigson's efforts to keep guys like Luck, Hilton, Allen, Freeman, Castonzo, etc.

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