With nearly $80 million in available cap space, Chris Ballard and new head coach Frank Reich will have some flexibility in rebuilding the Indianapolis Colts. While important strides were made to improve on defense last year, there are still positions in desperate need of attention heading into a new season including linebacker, pass rush, and corner back. Similarly, the offensive side of the ball is losing starters at running back and wide receiver, and still has a nagging need on an offensive line that has glaring weaknesses.
The early chatter, which started to grow at the NFL Combine, is that Indianapolis is interested in two offensive skill players who would add a lot of fire power for the potential return of Andrew Luck. The Miami Dolphins have franchise tagged wide receiver Jarvis Landry but are open to trading him and after they brought in Robert Quinn, they might be more motivated than ever. The New England Patriots have always found a way to bring in unsung free agents and prospects to their backfield and manage to produce, making free agent Dion Lewis a player who may leave via free agency — opening his spot for a rookie or a cheaper and younger free agent.
Both players are at positions of need for Indianapolis and both players have been connected to the Colts in reports prior to the start of free agency.
If Chris Ballard wants to acquire Landry, he will have to be willing to trade. If Miami’s trade with the Los Angeles Rams is any kind of projection, it would seem that a mid-round pick should get the job done. If the Colts were to part with their third or fourth round pick, allowing Miami to recover the one they lost in the trade for Quinn, the Dolphins will free up needed cap space and find themselves pretty close to even in terms of draft capital.
Some have pointed out that Landry’s franchise tag contract places him at $16 million guaranteed and that his price tag is cost prohibitive for anyone, including a cash rich Colts franchise. While this is true, and while he would be paid more than T.Y. Hilton, this is making the false assumption that any team trading for Landry would be interested in paying him the franchise amount. The safe bet is that any team who trades for Landry will make it a top priority to reach a deal on a new contract before July, locking him in for three or four years with higher guaranteed money than he has now, but for a lower annual cap hit than his $16 million franchise tag offers him now.
In short, ignore the franchise tag cap hit when considering this trade. No team wants to rent a player for $16 million for one season — and particularly not the Chris Ballard led Colts.
The rumors on Landry to the Colts have been all over the place. ESPNs Josina Anderson reported that if the Dolphins are unable to settle on a long-term deal the Colts and Titans are potential suitors.
Here is my update on #Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry whose rep is still scheduled to meet “this evening” with the #Dolphins, I’m told. @AdamSchefter reported last week it was set for Wednesday. Also more in talks b/w the #Redskins & LB Zach Brown. pic.twitter.com/ix79i72nT4— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 28, 2018
Local Indy Start reporter Stephen Holder, who may have gotten close with Chris Ballard over the last year, is reporting the exact opposite — that it is highly unlikely that the Colts would be interested in getting Landry at such a high price.
The issue is whether a team like the Colts would have the appetite to swing a deal for Landry, especially at a possible $16 million annual price tag. Early indications from inside the organization suggest that answer is an emphatic no.
For me, it comes as no surprise that Chris Ballard wouldn’t be interested in paying Jarvis Landry $16 million per year. He has made it clear that it is a bad policy to pay top-tier money for mid-tier players. While Landry certainly may push the envelope on those designations, it is fair to believe Holder and take Ballard at his word that overpaying for players is not his policy.
The key for me is that no team will be interested in paying him $16 million for the franchise tag. He is asking for approximately $14.5 million per year — and while that is higher than what T.Y. Hilton is making now, it is likely equal to or less than the contract Hilton signed when adjusted for the increasing cap and growth of salaries every year. Signing him to a three-year contract with a front-loaded $28 or $29 million in guarantees with nothing guaranteed in year three will meet his needs and allow Ballard and the Colts to move on if things don’t work out.
Another player who has been tied to the Colts as we approach the legal tampering period on March 12th is running back Dion Lewis. This move could make a lot of sense because he likely won’t demand one of the top running back contracts in free agency this off-season and because he offers the kind of dynamic skill set Frank Reich and the Colts will covet in their multiple look offense.
Lewis is an underrated pass blocker, has excellent hands as a receiver out of the backfield, and has proven to be effective between the tackles. He would be a great mentor for Marlon Mack as he enters his second season in a pro style offense. More importantly, he is the type of player that Ballard talks about wanting to reward with a contract. He is a known hard worker who does the little things right and has played a major role for an offense that knows how to win playoff games. He is also used to playing as a part of a running back committee and shouldn’t become a locker room problem when he isn’t the feature back and is asked to rotate regularly with Mack.
At 27 years old, Lewis should still have a few good seasons of football ahead of him and would buy some time for Mack to continue developing and help reduce pressure on the Colts early in the draft to find a running back. In fact, in a world where the Colts are able to land both players, it solidifies Bradley Chubb as a pick at 3 overall and allows Ballard to draft an interior lineman or inside linebacker with his second pick. It reduces the emphasis on offensive skill players and allows draft capital to go to other positions of need in the trenches and in the box on defense.