The Colts recently released Gosder Cherilus, their former starting right tackle. Cherilus had a rough 2014 season, dealing with injuries and even now he's still dealing with injuries. That led to his release. Releasing a two year starter may not seem like a beneficial move, but as you'll see, it frees up a lot of cap space and it allows the Colts to utilize the strengths of all their offensive lineman.
First, we'll start with the financial impact. What do the Colts save by cutting Cherilus? Cherilus was expected to have a cap hit of 6.9M dollars. By cutting him, the Colts will incur a 2.8M dead cap hit. That means the Colts are saving 4.1M dollars this season. Next year, the Colts will incur a dead cap hit of 5.8M dollars and would have had a cap hit of 9.9M dollars if he were on the roster, meaning the Colts save 4.1M dollars next season as well. Cherilus' dead cap hit this season is accounting for nearly 2% of the total salary cap. The Colts may have saved money in this deal, but this deal cannot be considered a good one for Grigson and unfortunately it goes on the growing list of free agent busts that Grigson has signed in recent years. I'd argue that this is too quick of a release considering Cherilus had a productive first season in Indianapolis and the only serious negative he had last season was his injury issues. He's still injured and wouldn't have been ready for training camp, but that still doesn't mean you have to pull the trigger on his release.
It's a peculiar move that I wouldn't agree with most of the time, but it makes sense for only one scenario: freeing up space to lock up the young guns. The Colts are tight on cap space and they have some young players they need to sign. Grigson and the management team are scrambling to find space. They saw Cherilus' contract, saw an off year, question marks surrounding this season, pulled the trigger and now they have more space. It's still an early release, but it does leave the Colts with more space and it gives them more breathing room with the T.Y. Hilton negotiations. T.Y. Hilton and his team reportedly recently asked for 14M per year. He won't get that, but he'll get something in that range. In a recent article of mine, I projected that Hilton was in line for a 5 year deal worth around 11.5M per year. With their new found cap space, they can afford to sign a deal for Hilton and still have some space left over going forward.
So, despite the fact he was released a bit early, it allowed the Colts to free up some cap space and give them the ability to sign a major star on the team. For those reasons, it's a good move financially.
There is also another significant impact in this transaction. Jack Mewhort, who played at left guard last season, will now move to right tackle. Mewhort was an offensive tackle in college and it is his natural position. He did perform well at left guard last season, but he's going to be more comfortable at tackle and I expect even better things from him this year. Had Mewhort stayed at left guard, Reitz would have been forced to play right tackle and who knows how he would have performed. Odds are, he won't be better than Mewhort (over the course of the season). Reitz is the perfect backup. Staying at left guard also means that Donald Thomas is still stuck as a backup. Thomas signed a deal during the Clinton administration, and due to his injuries, has never gotten a real chance to play. He has played one full game in his Colts career. He has still a lot of potential and needs to be given a shot before his deal is up.
So, with Mewhort moving away from left guard to play right tackle, what are the options at left guard? We just spoke about Donald Thomas, but who are the other candidates? Ben Heenan, CFL stud from the Saskatchewan Roughriders is one candidate and Hugh Thornton, the former 3rd round pick from Illinois is another. You can also throw in Lance Louis' name in there, but he seems to be heading for a backup gig. David Arkin is technically on the roster too, but if we start mentioning him, I might as well throw my hat in the ring. Thomas is the front runner and will be given a shot to start, but don't count out Heenan or Thornton going forward, especially Thornton as he has experience.
The Colts' offensive line has a lot of potential this season. There hasn't been much positive to say about the offensive line over the past 8 seasons, but this year can be a good season. Anthony Castonzo, the rock of the offensive line and a consistent performer is returning to left tackle. Mewhort has very good potential at right tackle and could be a stud there. Herremans is an experienced offensive lineman, who if healthy, will be a consistent performer like Castonzo at right guard. Finally, a battle is expected to ensue between Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison, with the winner winning the
World Heavyweight Championship starting center job. The left guard spot should be won by Donald Thomas, but his health will be important during training camp and the preseason. He needs to be able to take on a big load and play a lot of snaps without injury. If that can't happen, Hugh Thornton or Ben Heenan will be there to take that spot. The Colts also have nice depth along the offensive line this year. I'm a proponent of having strong depth along the offensive line. I think having strong depth is just as important as having solid starters. Offensive lines change all the time due to injuries and/or poor performance, so having a quality backup ready to play is a must. WIth Joe Reitz as a backup along with Thornton, Heenan and the loser of the starting center battle, the Colts are finally adding meat to the line.
There seems to be more consistency along the offensive line this season, which is why I'm more optimistic this year than I was in previous years. Will the Colts offensive line be amongst the best in the NFL or even in the top 10? No. Will they even be in the top 15? Maybe, but I'm not holding my breath. If they can rank in the top 20 (in terms of least amount of sacks and pressures allowed), then that would be a big step forward.
All in all, this release was a positive one for the Colts and it helps them in a few different ways.