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Why did the Colts cut Matt Overton?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, the Indianapolis Colts released ten players, and the most notable one was long snapper Matt Overton. Since then, many fans and media people have been confused and upset by the move.

Let’s just get this out of the way up front: you know the new general manager is doing a good job when the move that gets fans most upset is cutting a long snapper.

But, since my job is analyzing the team and since fans are wondering why Overton was cut, it’s worth explaining what I figure to be the team’s thought process behind the move.

I think there are three reasons that we need to look at. These three reasons by themselves might not be justification enough to cut Overton, but put together I think the move actually makes some sense.

Money

Like with so many other moves, I’m sure that money was at least a factor in the decision - though it might not be as big of an issue as some think. Overton was entering the third year of a four-year, $4 million contract and was set to have a $900,000 cap hit this year. If at first that seems like a lot for a long snapper, let’s put it into context a bit. The league’s highest-paid long snapper in 2017 will be Cleveland’s Charley Hughlett, who will have a cap hit of $1.465 million. According to Spotrac, eleven long snappers will have a cap hit of $1M+ in 2017, while thirteen of them will have a cap hit of $900,000+. So Overton’s cap hit in 2017 would have ranked right around the middle of the league. In the same way, Overton’s average of $1M/year over his four-year contract would rank tied for 14th in the league right now. So it would be incorrect to assume that Overton was one of the highest-paid long snappers in the league, because he was actually more around the middle of the league.

But at the same time, the Colts could still get cheaper - and that’s what they’ve done. They also cut long snapper Joe Fortunato today, so it looks like undrafted free agent Thomas Hennessy will get the first shot to replace Overton. Hennessy will most likely make the rookie minimum, which would pay him $456,000 this year. That is literally as cheap as you can get at the long snapper position, and it would save $444,000. But again, for a team with an estimated $18 million in salary cap space still available, cutting Overton simply for those minimal savings when he wasn’t even making outrageous money for a long snapper means that it might not be the sole reason for the move.

A New GM

Another thing that must be considered is the fact that the Colts have a new general manager - one who has shown that he didn’t think very fondly of the team’s roster that he inherited. That has been evident all offseason, and it was once again evident today when Chris Ballard cut ten guys to make room for undrafted free agent signings - with only one of the ten cuts being a player that Ballard signed. As we’ve been saying all along, almost no one is safe on this roster, save for a few obvious names (the quarterback and the kicker come to mind). And if you remember, Ballard’s predecessor also moved on from a well-liked long snapper in his first year with the team. Ryan Grigson cut Justin Snow, who had been with the team for 12 years and was a much better player than Overton, at the end of preseason in favor of Overton. Now, Ballard has cut Overton in favor of Hennessy (and perhaps another long snapper yet to be named). If Snow could lose his job when a new GM arrived, then certainly Overton could too.

But, again, this by itself isn’t enough justification to make the move. Chris Ballard isn’t coming in just to make a change for change’s sake at the long snapper position; there must be something more contributing to it too, right?

Performance

We now get to the third factor that might have contributed to Matt Overton being cut, and this one is the most controversial by far. There were some who thought that Matt Overton was absolutely terrible, while there were some that thought Matt Overton was perfect and one of the best in the league. What’s the reality? Like with most things, somewhere in the middle. I thought that Overton was a fine long snapper, and I thought the Colts could win with him and didn’t pay much thought otherwise. But there also was something else that I was curious about: how Overton would look without Pat McAfee. I’m sure everyone can remember at least one or two snaps in which McAfee fielded a high or low snap and still turned it into either a great punt or a great hold for Adam Vinatieri. McAfee was as good as it gets in the NFL, and so it would be interesting to see how Overton looks without McAfee behind him, because the reality is that no matter what your thoughts on Overton are, McAfee helped him out (and bailed him out at times too) considerably.

The most obvious example that I can think of came last year in the team’s week 13 game against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. It was the team’s first punt of the game, with the Colts leading 14-0, and Overton had a bad snap. It bounced a couple of yards in front of McAfee, but he leaned down and perfectly caught the ball on a bounce, then proceeded to get off a rugby-style punt that was downed at the Jets’ 3 yard line. Absolutely perfect by McAfee, and guess what? Nobody talked about Overton’s bad snap because of McAfee’s tremendous play. That’s what I mean: McAfee helped out Overton a lot.

Furthermore, the indications have been present for the last two years that Overton’s job might not be safe. The Colts signed Forrest Hill last offseason, and then this offseason signed Joe Fortunato and Thomas Hennessy. In other words: that’s a lot of competition for a long snapper. And as I noted Saturday night when news of Hennessy’s signing broke, three long snappers on the roster was significant and meant Overton had serious competition.

So in short, I think that money, performance, and a new general manager arriving all contributed to Matt Overton being cut. I thought that he probably would at least enter training camp with the team but with competition, though that won’t happen now. The Colts will have Hennessy in rookie mini-camp coming up (and Fortunato could possibly be invited too as a tryout), so they’re moving on from Overton after five years. It might be surprising to some, but I think it makes at least some sense.