The Indianapolis Colts tonight re-signed tight end Dwayne Allen to a deal that is reportedly worth $29.4 million over four years, according to multiple reports.
The first reaction to seeing those numbers is quite surprising, as it's a higher contract than many (including myself) thought that Allen would get. The question immediately became this: did the Colts overpay for him? Put simply, yes they did - but that's the nature of free agency. When you actually stop and think about the deal, however, it may not be as bad as it looks at first.
Allen's deal for $29.4 million over four years would pay him an average of $7.35 million per season over the next four years, which according to Spotrac ranks tenth among tight ends in the NFL in average per season. Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, Julius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Charles Clay, Greg Olsen, Jordan Cameron, and Jason Witten are those ahead of Allen when it comes to average money per year for tight ends. When you consider an NFL record salary cap this season, Allen ranking right at the bottom of the top ten of this list isn't outrageous.
The reason for that is because Allen has the potential to become a very good number one tight end in the NFL, something the Colts are counting on happening. As everyone knows, you pay for what a player can do for you, not what he's already done, and the Colts believe that if they can utilize Allen correctly he'll be a difference-maker. He's the increasingly rare tight end that can be a legitimate contributor in the passing game and as a blocker, and if the Colts find a way to balance that and utilize all of his skills, Allen could wind up being even better than he has been before and continuing to improve. Of course, the other key besides the Colts utilizing him correctly is him staying healthy, as that has been a concern and will continue to be, especially after this new contract. But if Allen can stay healthy and the Colts can use him correctly, there's reason to believe he'll be a very good tight end, particularly since he figures to be the primary tight end if the Colts let Coby Fleener walk (as they likely will now with Allen re-signing).
In other words, Allen's contract places him right on the fringe of the top ten tight ends in the league, and if he and the Colts can figure things out and put it together, then the deal will work out well and we won't be talking about Allen being overpaid. Now, of course, there are questions of whether or not Allen will stay on the field or whether or not the Colts will learn from past mistakes, so it's no sure thing - but if they can figure it all, Allen is a very well-balanced and complete tight end who could have a major impact on the Colts' offense over the next several years.
One other note that is important to make is that it doesn't seem as if Colts general manager Ryan Grigson really overpaid compared to the market for Allen. CBS' Jason La Canfora reported earlier today that some NFL teams expected Allen to make $8 million per year, which would be right around what the Colts are going to be paying him. He was going to have suitors if he reached the open market, and while it's impossible to predict what he would have made, the indications are that Allen's deal with the Colts probably isn't much different than what he could have made somewhere else. So perhaps it's not the Colts overpaying as much as it is them realizing that, in order to keep Allen, they were going to need to pay him legitimate money.
That's probably the bottom line that we can take from this discussion: the Colts must really like Allen, as they were willing to pay him significant money to keep him around. It's easy to see why they like him, but now that the contract is out of the way the real work begins: the Colts need to figure out how to better integrate Allen into the offense to utilize his unique skillset, while Allen needs to work to stay on the field. If both of those things happen - and it's a legitimate if - I don't think this deal will wind up being a bad one.