Earlier today, the Indianapolis Colts announced that they had released Gosder Cherilus, who had been their starting right tackle for the past two seasons. Everyone immediately just assumed that the reason was because of lingering concerns about his health, something that had concerned the team all offseason. Last year, he struggled through injuries and ended up being placed on IR, and there was a lot of uncertainty about his status. So, naturally, many just assumed that was the reason for the team releasing the lineman, a move that didn't really come as a big surprise.
But perhaps there's more to the story. According to the Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder, Cherilus is actually healthy and ready to return to the field. Both Cherilus' agent, Greg Diulus, and another source told Holder that Cherilus is ready to play, something that makes the release of Cherilus just one week before the Colts' first practice of training camp a bit more puzzling.
Furthermore, Holder reports that the Colts attempted to restructure Cherilus' contract before they cut him, but the proposal was turned down because, as Diulus told Holder, it was "not a reasonable proposal." Holder noted that the Colts haven't ruled out re-signing Cherilus, but it's likely that the lineman "will explore other options."
This new information certainly adds another dimension to the release of Cherilus, as it sounds as if the decision wasn't solely motivated by the lineman's health status. Now, to be certain, there are likely still concerns about his durability and about lingering issues, but it sounds like Cherilus is ready to return now - and perhaps that is why the Colts waited until now to release him as well, as they can't just release an injured player until he passes his physical (or if he's cut with an injury settlement). Anyway, the Colts offering Cherilus a restructured contract likely means that they saw some value in keeping him around to at least compete, but they didn't want to pay the contract that they gave him in 2013 (in 2014 he was due to have a $4 million base salary and a cap hit of $6.9 million).
One of the biggest things that I think Holder's report shows is this: the Colts are ready for Jack Mewhort to take over at right tackle. Gosder Cherilus played very poorly last season and had legitimate injury concerns, enough so that he missed all offseason workouts. In his place, Jack Mewhort moved to right tackle, and the second-year pro has potential (whether that is at guard or at tackle). I find it likely that the Colts looked at Cherilus' play from last year, at the injury and durability concerns that they likely still have, and at his contract, compared it to Jack Mewhort, and liked the option of moving Mewhort to right tackle better. They then offered Cherilus a restructured contract for him to be able to compete for the starting spot in training camp with Mewhort, and then they would have time to evaluate. If Cherilus was healthy and producing, then they'd just simply move Mewhort back to left guard and feel good about their line. But if Cherilus wasn't healthy or producing, they could move on from him and begin the Mewhort era at right tackle. That didn't happen, however, as Cherilus' camp turned down the proposed restructure, and thus the Colts opted instead to simply make the decision now to move on from Cherilus and begin the Mewhort era. If that's really what happened, then I think this move shows us that the Colts like what they have in Mewhort at right tackle and feel comfortable there.
As happens so often in the NFL, this move appears to have been motivated at least in part by the salary cap. Because Cherilus is a post-June 1 cut, the remaining money that he is owed will be spread out over the next two seasons. In 2015, the Colts will have $2.9 million in dead money for cutting Cherilus, while the real impact will come next season when they have $5.8 million in dead money. It does free up some cap room this year and it frees up a roster spot, so perhaps we will see a corresponding move coming at some point soon. But we could also see the Colts opt to roll over some of their available cap space this year to next year in order to try to help a situation in which Anthony Castonzo, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and others will need a new deal - and that's in addition to Andrew Luck, who might still get paid next offseason despite having another year left.