The NFL offseason is upon us, and soon teams will have to make some tough decisions as they move forward and attempt to improve their teams for next season. The Indianapolis Colts are certainly one of those teams, and they do have their share of tough decisions to make as well.
Firstly, they have decisions to make about free agents. They have a number of players whose contracts are up but who the Colts might want to re-sign, and that list includes Darius Butler, Cory Redding (depending on retirement), Reggie Wayne (depending on retirement), Hakeem Nicks, Mike Adams, Jerrell Freeman (RFA), Sergio Brown, Dan Herron (RFA), and Ahmad Bradshaw. And that list doesn't include those free agents from other franchises that the Colts might pursue, plus the possible Andrew Luck mega-deal this offseason (it's coming within a year or two, we just don't know when).
According to Over the Cap, the Colts are projected to have $32,762,261 in cap space to spend this offseason, which is certainly quite a bit. In order to make some of the moves that they will want to make, however, they might need to make some cuts for salary cap reasons.
One of the best things that general manager Ryan Grigson and cap expert Mike Bluem have done for the Colts is the structure of the free agent contracts, and the structure is such that the Colts can get out of a lot of these deals before the mega-deals for Andrew Luck and his draft class comes up. You can say what you want about their personnel moves or the money paid to players, but the structure of the deals has been good for the Colts.
Because of that, we have a number of options to discuss when talking about potential cap causalities, and we'll take a look at six of them here. Firstly, keep in mind that a player appearing on this list does not mean that I think the player will get cut nor does it mean I think the player should be cut, but rather that the Colts could save significant money by doing so and that it is an option. Secondly, all contract numbers (cap hit, dead money, and projected savings) are courtesy of Over the Cap.
Ricky Jean Francois, DE
Cap Hit: $6,125,000
Dead Money: $1,250,000
Projected Savings if Cut: $4,875,000
Admittedly, RJF improved in 2014 after a bad first year with the Colts. He played in all sixteen games and started thirteen, recording 28 tackles, three sacks, and four passes defensed. He was a very solid player for the Colts in 2014, but that cap number is hard to ignore, as is the potential savings by cutting him. Part of the decision with RJF might come with whether Cory Redding decides to return or retire, and the defensive line is an area that already needs upgrading. The decision for the Colts will be whether to keep RJF around on the defensive line while trying to improve it, as RJF is a solid player and can play a role, or whether the team would rather have the extra money to possibly better address the spot.
Greg Toler, CB
Cap Hit: $5,833,334
Dead Money: $333,334
Projected Savings if Cut: $5,500,000
There is only one player currently on the Colts roster who the team could cut and save more money than with Greg Toler, and that's with left tackle Anthony Castonzo - one of their best players and who has zero percent chance of getting cut. There's a real chance with Greg Toler, however, as by cutting him the Colts would save $5,500,000. Toler is a solid cornerback for the Colts and has been their number two guy for the past two seasons, and he does play a role in the Colts' defense. Because of that, I think the team might be hesitant to cut him, and I don't think that's a bad thing. They can do better than Toler at the number two corner spot, sure, but they can also do much worse. If they decide to part ways with Toler, they better have a plan and make it work for what to do at the cornerback position.
LaRon Landry, S
Cap Hit: $5,750,000
Dead Money: $3,500,000
Projected Savings if Cut: $2,250,000
If it weren't for Trent Richardson, there likely would be no Colts player more maligned by fans than safety LaRon Landry. After a bad 2013 campaign, Landry's 2014 season was even worse. He was a weak spot on the defense early in the season before he was suspended four games by the league for PEDs, after which the Colts were in no rush to bring him back, and Landry actually lost his starting spot to Sergio Brown for a number of games before re-gaining it towards the end of the season. If the Colts plan to bring back Mike Adams and Sergrio Brown, it could give them enough assurance and confidence in parting ways with LaRon Landry while then continuing to look for upgrades in free agency.
Erik Walden, OLB
Cap Hit: $4,250,000
Dead Money: $500,000
Projected Savings if Cut: $3,750,000
Erik Walden was actually one of the more underrated players on the Colts defense in 2014, as he definitely exceeded expectations after an average 2013 season. He was one of the most consistent pass rushers on the team and also did a good job against the run. Of all six players on this list, I think that Walden is the easily biggest stretch for the team to actually cut (with Toler probably second behind him). If the Colts plan on moving Bjoern Werner to Walden's side with the return of Robert Mathis (which I expect) they might think that they can part with Walden, but I think they'll stick with the outside linebacker as a starter for the third year in a row despite the potential cap savings by cutting him.
Donald Thomas, OL
Cap Hit: $3,750,000
Dead Money: $500,000
Projected Savings if Cut: $3,250,000
In two years with the Colts, Donald Thomas has played a total of 70 snaps combined. He tore his quad in the second game of the 2013, putting him out for the season, and then re-tore the quad in training camp in 2014. He's now rehabbing once again, but the Colts can't really enter 2015 counting on him for much and that could lead to him being cut for salary cap purposes. They could save $3,250,000 for a guy who has played 70 snaps in two seasons for the Colts, and that seems like a pretty good deal initially. This might be the most likely cut of the six players on this list, though let's not rule out the possibility of a restructure either to let Thomas compete for a spot in camp.
Shaun Phillips, OLB
Cap Hit: $2,650,000
Dead Money: $0
Projected Savings if Cut: $2,650,000
Many might be surprised to see Phillips on the same list as some of these other more notable Colts, but the outside linebacker signed a two-year deal with the Colts during last season and the team could save $2,260,000 by cutting him. It was a worthwhile mid-season signing by a Colts team that really needed pass rush help, and Phillips played in five games for the team, but he didn't have much of an impact and he will be 34-years old when the 2015 season starts. There's not much reason to keep Phillips around in 2015 when the Colts can save significant money by cutting him.
Which of these potential cap casualties do you most want to see? Which ones do you think are most likely?