Earlier today, the Indianapolis Colts and star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton agreed to a five-year, $65 million extension with $39 million guaranteed. And it was a good move for both Hilton and for the team to get the extension done - though that's not even close to being a consensus feeling among fans.
You'll find plenty of fans today who don't like the deal and think that the Colts overpaid to keep Hilton and that they shouldn't have done it. I disagree with that assessment, but so many people have said something along those lines that I felt I should explain why I feel that way.
In many ways, it reminds me of a debate that Colts fans were having just last year with another re-signing: that of cornerback Vontae Davis. When the corner received a four-year, $39 million extension, many fans were upset and thought that the Colts overpaid for him (I wasn't one of them). Now, just one year later? The Davis contract is viewed by most as a steal. In the words of the wise old Jedi Master Yoda, "difficult to see. Always in motion is the future."
With that in mind, let's look at a few of the reasons why I think re-signing T.Y. Hilton was a must and why the Colts didn't overpay as much as it might initially seem.
T.Y. Hilton is a very good player
Let's make this clear: it's not like the Colts paid all of this money for some random wide receiver off the street. T.Y. Hilton is already a very good football player, and at only 25-years old, he should only get better. Through his first three seasons, Hilton has played in 46 games and has caught 214 passes for 3,289 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 15.4 yards per reception. But that's not it: playing with a franchise that boasts the likes of Raymond Berry, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne, Hilton still has the most receptions, receiving yards, and 100-yard receiving games through the first three years of his career of any player in franchise history while ranking second in receiving touchdowns during that span. In fact, Hilton is one of only three Colts ever to have multiple 1,000-yard receiving seasons - along with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. And Hilton has done that in just three seasons. When we're talking about the entire NFL, Hilton has the second-most 100-yard games through his first three years (including playoffs) of any player in league history - behind only Randy Moss.
But that's not all. Hilton has also been the Colts' only consistent and reliable receiving threat over the past two years and has still produced, including making the Pro Bowl in 2014. He is a fantastic route runner (Reggie Wayne's influence is clear), a great deep threat, is sure-handed, adjusts well to the football, and has near-perfect timing with quarterback Andrew Luck. The only thing he's missing is the size that some of the other elite receivers have, but that hasn't been a hinderance to him becoming a top-tier receiver and it shouldn't be a reason why the Colts should be hesitant about paying him (to quote Yoda again, "size matters not"). Hilton is already among the top receivers in the NFL and is a great threat for the Colts offense, providing a perfect fit for what they want to do and a tremendous receiver for Luck.
Hilton is the Colts' best receiving option
Let's play the what-if game for a moment: what if the Colts let Hilton walk at the end of the season? Are Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett good enough to take over? Because, clearly, they would be the ones counted on to be the long-term answers (along with maybe Duron Carter), since Andre Johnson is 34-years old. Maybe the 2015 season will tell us more whether they would be capable of it, but right now there's no way you could comfortably move on from Hilton in favor of a bunch of talented but unproven players.
Furthermore, you might say that, with a quarterback like Andrew Luck the Colts don't need to pay as much money to receivers because he'll make others better. And that's certainly true. But keep in mind that even the best quarterbacks have had top receivers. Joe Montana and Steve Young had Jerry Rice. Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. And Andrew Luck has T.Y. Hilton. I think people often remember how Manning would make players like Blair White look better but forget the fact that, for the entirety of his career in Indianapolis, he had either Harrison or Wayne playing wide receiver. So it's not stupid to pay your top receiver even though your quarterback can make other receivers look better.
Long-term, this deal will look better
Another thing to consider is that, long-term, this deal will look a lot better. Again, remember the Vontae Davis deal for a moment: one year, plenty of people hated the move, and then the next year most considered it a steal. Give this contract a year or two and it will look a lot better. The reason? The salary cap will continue to increase and other wide receivers will continue to raise the market. We saw it happen this year already - Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas raised the market, and that's what helped Hilton get this deal. The market will continue to be raised, and that's why next offseason Hilton would have been more expensive to keep around than he is right now. As more and more receivers receive extensions, Hilton's deal will look better and better. I mean, after working out Hilton's deal, agent Drew Rosenhaus headed off to work on negotiations for the Steelers' Antonio Brown. The market will continue to increase, as will the salary cap (and Hilton likely should continue to improve, too). And the more that happens, the better Hilton's deal will look.
Comparatively, this deal actually makes sense
T.Y. Hilton received a five-year deal worth $65 million with $39 million guaranteed, an extension that averages $13 million per year. The obvious comparison that people make are the last two receivers to get big extensions: the Cowboys' Dez Bryant and the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas, who both received an extension that averages $14 million per year. In terms of market value, I thought that Hilton would receive around $12 million per year - and that was before the Bryant and Thomas deals. As I mentioned about the market continually begin reset, those two extensions certainly bumped Hilton's value up a bit, making an average of $13 million per year sound fair. And consider that the average ranks fourth in the league among receivers and that his guaranteed money ranks fourth as well and you'll see that, for the Colts and for Hilton it's not an unreasonable deal. The Colts got Hilton at just about market value, and as the market goes up over the next few years, we might actually look back and consider it a bit of a steal.
You don't fill holes with money
Perhaps the most common reason that people who dislike the deal give for not liking the extension is that it will take away money that they could use on the defensive side of the football at areas they need more help at. Well, firstly, perhaps the Colts would need help at receiver if they let Hilton go (because everyone else is still unproven besides Andre Johnson, who is 34-years old). But more than that, the Colts wouldn't be able to fill the defensive holes by just throwing money at it. That's just not how it works. Understand that over the past three years the Colts have been among the lowest average payrolls on the offensive side of the football, thanks to having stars such as Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton on rookie deals. But so far, the defense has still been a major concern. With plenty of money to spend, the Colts signed guys like LaRon Landry, Ricky Jean Francois, Greg Toler, Erik Walden, Arthur Jones, and others. I actually think that many of them have done a good job (besides Landry), but has the defense been that much more improved? I mean, we're still talking about how that is the biggest weakness - with Luck, Hilton, and Castonzo still on their rookie deals! It's just silly to suggest that the Colts had to choose whether to re-sign Hilton or improve the defense, because it's just not that simple. They know what they have in Hilton, so they wanted to keep him around. Defensively, Ryan Grigson hasn't been particularly good at addressing the holes, whether in free agency or particularly in the draft. So if the Colts opted to let Hilton walk in order to help the defense, what's to say they wouldn't just go out and sign another LaRon Landry-type player? And if that happened, I guarantee you'd rather have Hilton. It's just not that simple - the Colts aren't going to fill holes just by throwing money at them, as we've seen over the past few years. Rather, it will take good drafting and smart player evaluation, something that can still happen even now that Hilton has been re-signed.
A repeat of the past era wouldn't be a bad thing
Finally, many are hesitant about this deal because it shows that the Colts are resembling the Peyton Manning era Colts. They have the quarterback and they have the receivers, and they're clearly planning to win with offense. They're really only missing the Edgerrin James of the offense, but this team very much resembles the Manning era Colts. And I don't think that's a bad thing. It seems many Colts fans would rather be the New York Giants of the 2000s (winning two Super Bowls but missing the playoffs often) instead of the Indianapolis Colts of the 2000s (making the playoffs almost every year and winning more games in a single decade than any team in history). As I always say, however, if the Colts repeated the success of the past decade all over again, they'd almost certainly emerge with more than one title. During the 2000s, there was a dynasty (the Patriots), a missed field goal (Mike Vanderjagt), and an onside kick and an interception (in the Super Bowl against the Saints). If any of those things weren't there (three plays and another team that was a dynasty), the Colts would likely have won more than one Super Bowl. The best way to have a chance to win the Super Bowl each year is to make the playoffs each year. Repeating the Manning era with the Luck era wouldn't be such a bad thing at all.
Overall, I think it's a pretty fair deal for the Colts and for T.Y. Hilton and I think there's plenty of reason to like the extension. Even if you don't love it right now, just think forward a year or two and I think you'd admit that it will look better then. T.Y. Hilton is a good enough player that he deserved this extension, and it's a good day to be a Colts fan with him getting it.