At this point in the offseason gauging the viability of the Indianapolis Colts’ roster among the rest of the league, who’s going to make the roster and who will likely be running with their respective first units is a futile task. However, there are some additional aspects worth catching up on as June 1 has come and gone.
The date doesn’t hold a ton of significance for the Colts in terms of attempting to create cap space by waiting post-June 1 to release players. Rather, quite the opposite in this year’s case. The Colts have now completed the second session of OTAs with only one four-day session left before mandatory minicamp, so let’s dig in to some of the goings on we may have to look forward to, and some off-field updates with the team.
Colts Hold Over $52 Million in Cap Space
As it currently stands, the Colts are holding just over $52 million in available cap space. Yes, that is a ton of money. General manager Chris Ballard has stated that he wasn’t going to run out and make it rain (slightly paraphrasing) this year, and that the initial stages of free agency didn’t go their way.
In other words, finding a way to sign some of the best available talent for what he would consider to be a quality contract just didn’t work out this time around. The Colts did sign some complementary pieces in Denico Autry and Matt Slauson, but didn’t land any perceived difference makers.
While Ballard is holding strong with his frugality, there are a couple free agents still available who could improve the Colts roster — especially their defense — almost overnight.
Another situation which may arise in the coming days is the actual post-June 1 cuts from other teams. With each team only being allowed to peg two players with the designation before June 1, once the date passes they can release players while softening their salary cap situation as the money owed to that player is spread over the next two seasons.
There are 12 teams that currently have less than $10 million in space and we may see some quality players getting the hook in the coming days and weeks. More specifically, the Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles are all riding with less than $5.5 million of available funds.
If a player Ballard has his eye on hits the market, I don’t think he’ll hesitate to pull the trigger.
Leonard and Smith Remain Unsigned
Two of the Colts’ 2018 NFL Draft picks have yet to agree on the details of their contract with the team at this point in time. Both Darius Leonard and Braden Smith are still without signed contracts, but this isn’t something that is at all out of the norm.
Yes, the new rookie pay scale makes the majority of the negotiations a formality, but most picks that don’t get finalized — when the team has plenty of cap space — are due in large part to offset language that one side or the other is pushing and has yet to be agreed upon. The Colts’ first-round pick, Quenton Nelson, has signed and is actually one of only two of the top 10 picks who have done so at this point.
I don’t know how much disagreement could be apparent with second-round picks, but this is where they are. Both Leonard and Smith have the ability to work through OTAs and minicamp without contracts, but that isn’t the case for training camp. This was the impetus behind the new pay scale under the CBA in 2011, and I wouldn’t expect anything crazy to come about with either of the Colts second-round selections.
After all, the Dolphins and Rams combined have yet to sign 17 draft picks while no other team in the league has more than three picks that remain unsigned. The fact that Leonard has suffered a severe lack of reps due to his undisclosed health (injury) issue is a minor problem — especially if it doesn’t get cleared up — but he and Smith being without a deal right now isn’t that big of deal.
A Few of the Best Available Free Agents
Safety Tre Boston (26), cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) and linebacker Mychal Kendricks (27) are all still sitting out there looking for a team to sign with. Boston and Kendricks are currently taking meetings as they inch closer to finding their home for at least the 2018 season, but the word on Breeland has gotten quiet after he met with the Colts and Arizona Cardinals and left without a deal at either spot.
There are other lesser known talents out there, but — aside from Eric Reid (26) who is in a sticky position with the league right now — there’s a pretty good case for these being the best options at their respective positions on the market. They would instantly upgrade these positions for the Colts and we may see a move at some point if their price point comes down a bit.
Another safety who the Colts have spoken to, Kenny Vacarro (27), is also in Ballard’s age range and would be a very solid grab if there is a real focus on improving the safety corps. However, most don’t see the safety situation as dire as some others. Kayvon Webster (27) is a solid cornerback option with some youth still on his side, but maybe one guy who’s not so young is who plenty of Colts fans would love for Ballard to take a swing at.
NaVorro Bowman (30) was once among the very best linebackers in the league, and despite injuries and age, many would appreciate the risk to see if he’s still got any of what he used to offer in the tank. This does not feel like a Ballard move, but his top-level play of a few years ago is hard to forget.
Like I said, the market isn’t flooded with game changers. But, there are several without homes who would make the Colts better on the spot.
Luck to Begin Throwing in Between Minicamp and Training Camp?
Although Ballard and head coach Frank Reich are (understandably) asked every time they’re in front of the media, quarterback Andrew Luck is not expected to be throwing an NFL regulation football until in between mandatory minicamp in mid-June and training camp in late July. The goal is for him to be full-go when training camp starts and to not have the governor on, as Luck puts it.
My guess is that if he comes out in camp firing and isn’t on a small “pitch count” then he’ll be fine. It didn’t take long for his setback to happen last fall when he began throwing again, so I imagine we’ll know if there’s something wrong if he’s not throwing to start camp. Maybe that’s just me.
Who Holds First-team Reps on Offensive Line, Defensive Front Seven?
The Colts have been cautious with some players during OTAs, not practicing them full time so that they can get/keep them as healthy as possible. Because of that, we don’t have a full gauge on who will be starting on units like the offensive line and defensive front seven. However, the lineups that have been used make a lot of sense.
The first-team offensive line so far has been Anthony Castonzo (LT), Quenton Nelson (LG), Ryan Kelly (C), Matt Slauson (RG) and Austin Howard (RT). I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the starting line to begin the season, but right guard bears monitoring. Will Braden Smith or Jack Mewhort make a run?
It’s been fluid on the defensive line, but my guess is that the first-team would consist of Jabaal Sheard (LDE) and Tarell Basham (RDE) at defensive end with Al Woods (NT) and Denico Autry (3T) at defensive tackle. John Simon’s fit and future has come into question lately, and we could also see guys like Hassan Ridgeway, Tyquan Lewis and Rakeem Nunez-Roches make their case to start at tackle.
Linebacker seems relatively set as well until Darius Leonard returns, barring any starting-level acquisitions. The lineup has been Najee Goode at WILL, Anthony Walker at MIKE and Antonio Morrison at SAM. Leonard is expected to earn the starting WILL spot at some point, but he’s a rookie and has missed important reps. That also bears monitoring. Skai Moore (MIKE) and and Matthew Adams (SAM) could make a run at the lineup as well.