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3 potential Colts free agent targets and their asking prices (Part 2)

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Tom Brady

Brady, also known as El Diablo to most Colts fans, might actually be leaving the Death Star and enter the free agency market. The following 3 players were in similar situations as Brady:

  • Drew Brees — 2 years, $50M ($25M average) with $27M Guaranteed | Signed in 2018
  • Kurt Warner — 2 years, $23M ($11.5M average) with $15M Guaranteed | Signed in 2009
  • Brett Favre — 1 year, $16M with $4.4M Guaranteed | Signed in 2010

If you adjust for salary cap inflation, the average contract of those three is 2 years, 48,960,000 with $23,910,000 Guaranteed.

Tom Brady’s contract situation is very unique and tough to predict. While a few teams have shown some interest, it’s tough to think that a quarterback who will be 43 at the start of the season will have a lot of interest from teams not named New England. If you look at the current NFL landscape, I’d argue that the following teams are truly in need of a quarterback: Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami, Tampa Bay, Tennessee. With the Bengals expected to select Joe Burrow in the draft and the Dolphins and Chargers with high draft picks paired with a strong quarterback class, you can eliminate those three teams. That leaves Chicago, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Tennessee with New England as teams that would potentially be in the Tom Brady market. The Bears don’t have enough cap space to sign Brady and it makes little sense for them to do so, so you can eliminate them, which leaves 4 teams. Indianapolis, Tampa and Tennessee all have current options at quarterback. The Colts have Jacoby Brissett plus a relatively high draft pick. The Bucs can re-sign Jameis Winston, they have a high draft pick and they have been linked to potentially signing Teddy Bridgewater or Philip Rivers. The Titans received very strong play from Ryan Tannehill and he seems to be their top re-signing target. The Patriots are clearly playing some hard-ball with Brady.

In short, I believe that the Brady market is a lot weaker than the media and others are propping it up to be. It’s for those reasons why I think his projected contract will be 10% lower than the average of the three comparable players. I believe his contract will be:

2 Years, $44,064,000 ($22.032M average) with $21,519,000 Guaranteed

Shaq Barrett

Shaq Barrett established himself as one of the league’s best pass rushers last season with a monster 19.5 sack year. He had his best season at the perfect time and now is in line for a massive new contract. The following 4 players are good to compare:

  • Za’Darius Smith — 4 years, $66M (16.5M average) with $20M Guaranteed | Signed in 2019
  • Preston Smith — 4 years, $52M (13M average) with $16M Guaranteed | Signed in 2019
  • Dee Ford — 5 years, $85M ($17M average) with $19.75M Guaranteed | Signed in 2019
  • Whitney Mercilus — 4 years, $54M ($13.5M average) with $18M Guaranteed | Signed in 2020

The average of those 4 contracts (accounting for salary cap inflation) is 4 years, $62,966,700 (15.74M average) with $18,518,646 guaranteed.

The market for top rushers is always strong and Barrett should be in demand. While usually I would increase his contract projection by 10%, but due to his lack of consistent production (only one strong year) and a very strong market in general (Clowney, Armstead, Griffen, Fowler, Quinn, Ansah, Sheard and Van Noy), I don’t think he’ll get anything massive. It’s for those reasons why I’m only increasing his projection by 3%. That means his contract will look something like:

4 Years, $64,848,800 ($16.21M average) with $19,072,175 Guaranteed

Amari Cooper

A few weeks ago, I didn’t think Cooper would still be un-signed or even be so far from being re-signed. With free agency a few days away, it looks like Cooper will hit the market. Cooper is a young player hitting his prime and is clearly one of the 8 most talented receivers in the NFL. The following three players are good to compare:

  • Michael Thomas — 5 Years, $96.25M ($19.25M average) with 35.648M Guaranteed | Signed in 2019
  • Mike Evans — 5 Years, $82.5M ($16.5M average) with $38.258M Guaranteed | Signed in 2018
  • Odell Beckham — 5 Years, $90M ($18M average) with $40.959M Guaranteed | Signed in 2018

The average of those three contracts (accounted for inflation) is 5 years, $99.1M with $42.58M Guaranteed.

The market for a young, already established star receiver will always be strong. The issue for teams not named the Cowboys is that the Cowboys will essentially match most offers made for Cooper. So there are two important points that need to be made for Cooper’s situation:

  • A team that makes an offer to Cooper must make an offer that the Cowboys will have a very hard time matching. Cooper is not their top priority, Dak Prescott is. With that being said, I believe if a team offered a contract that was 7.5% above the average projection listed above, that would be good enough for Cooper to not only sign away from the Cowboys, but for the Cowboys to let him walk.
  • If the Cowboys do end up re-signing him, it will most likely be for around the average contract listed above.

With all that being said, a contract that is 7.5% above the average projection would be:

5 Years, $106,532,500 ($21.306M average) with $45,773,500 Guaranteed

The Colts are so rich... HOW RICH ARE THEY?

Like the experiment in part 1, the Colts can sign all of these free agents, heavily front-load the contracts (20% front load) and have a good amount of money left over. If they decide to eliminate the contracts of Brian Hoyer, Quincy Wilson and Margus Hunt (three likely cap casualties), that would free up 8.25M. That leaves the Colts with plenty of cap space to sign all their rookies, re-sign Anthony Castonzo (to a backloaded contract like the one I projected in my article about him earlier this year) and even have the opportunity to keep a few backup free agents (like Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark for example) and have some money left over. Those costs equate to 8.88M (expected cap hit of 2020 draft class), 15.6M (projected 2020 cap hit of a re-signed Castonzo) and 3M (left for 3 key backups to be re-signed), which totals approximately 27.5M. Add in the fact that the Colts currently have over a dozen reserve/future contracts on their pay-sheets, so if you dump those contracts, that frees up another 3.74M.

If you add everything together, you get a formula that looks like this:

85.9M (current cap space)
- 71.5M (first year cap hits of the three big free agent contracts that are 20% front-loaded)
- 13.6M (first year cap hit of Castonzo)
+ 8.25M (cap savings of three cap casualties)
- 3M (cap hits of three backup free agents)
- 8.8M (cap hits of rookie class)
+ 3.75M (dumping of reserve contracts who wouldn’t be on 53 man roster)
= 1M left over in cap space

The Colts are rich...

Before you all jump to attack me in the comments for this blurb, understand that I’m NOT advocating for all three signings and then front-loading the contracts, it’s just a mere experiment showing how much space the Colts have and how they can move a lot of pieces around and still have space left over.