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2021 Colts Free Agency Primer

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Colts Salary Cap Situation

As of right now, the Colts enter free agency with 46.1M in cap space if the salary cap is set at 182.5M. They had around 70-72M, but the Wentz trade decreased that amount by 25.4M.

The Colts should look to leave around 8M in cap space for draft class signings and in-season transactions. The Colts should also look to leave around 20M for the contract extensions (and in the case of Nelson, the 5th year option cap hit) of Darius Leonard, Braden Smith and Darius Leonard. The reason I listed 20M is for the following reasons:

  • Leonard, Smith and Nelson currently combine for a 15.3M cap hit in 2021.
  • I personally expect the total averages of their extensions/option year to total somewhere around 42M. Nelson’s 5th year option will be worth 14.5M and I expect Leonard to get a contract of 17.5M per year and Smith to get a contract worth around 10M per year.
  • Assuming a normal 2021-2022 season, the salary cap should jump to around 220M based on the 6% historical average increase. The salary cap was 198M in 2019-2020, which is how I got to the 220M figure. That would be an increase of 35M or so, or 18%.
  • If we use the 42M figure from before against a 220M salary cap, that equates to 19.09%.
  • If we use the 15.3M figure from before against the current 185M salary cap estimate, that equates to 8.27%.
  • The difference of the two (10.82%), used against the current 185M salary cap estimate, equals 20.01M, which is how I got to the number 20M.

If you take 46.1M - 8M - 20M, that leaves you with 18.1M of money to play with for free agency. For simplicity sake, you can call it 18M.

Colts Free Agents & Projected Contracts

The key free agents of the Colts (and their projected contracts) are (in alphabetical order):

  • Denico Autry - 2 years, 11M total
  • Mo Alie-Cox - 3 years, 8M
  • TJ Carrie - 1 year, 1.5M
  • TY Hilton - 2 years, 20M
  • Justin Houston - 2 years, 16M
  • Al-Quadin Muhammed - 2 years, 4.5M
  • Zach Pascal - 2 years, 5M
  • Xavier Rhodes - 3 years, 22.5M
  • Anthony Walker Jr - 2 years, 7M

In my opinion, Houston, Hilton and Walker don’t offer much value to the team moving forward at their prices, which leaves: Autry, Alie-Cox, Carrie, Muhammed, Pascal and Rhodes. If they sign all of them, that would leave them with not much room to work with for free agency. With a strong pass rushing class, I would let the 30-year-old Autry hit the market.

If you sign Alie-Cox, Carrie, Muhammed and Pascal to their market value deals, then that should cost them about 8.8M in cap space, leaving the team with around 12.2M to play with. The Colts then have a big decision on their hands about whether to keep Xavier Rhodes or not. We’ll revisit this question later on.

Biggest Colts Needs

In my opinion, as it stands, the Colts’ biggest needs are:

  • Left Tackle
  • Defensive End
  • Cornerback
  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  • Linebacker

The Colts have a 1st and 2nd round pick plus a 4th round pick so the two early picks can be used on one of the four biggest needs and the 4th round pick can be used later on. It means the Colts will have to use free agency to mask a couple of those holes.

Top Free Agents Targets (Position of Needs)

Left Tackle

  • Trent Williams
  • Alejandro Villanueva
  • Russell Okung
  • Daryl Williams
  • Kelvin Beachum

Quick Notes: Top heavy class led by Williams, Villanueva and Okung, with little to no value from the middle of the pack. Colts need a stallion to replace Castonzo, so that will either come from those three names listed or someone in the draft.

Defensive End

  • Shaq Barrett
  • Carl Lawson
  • Jadeveon Clowney
  • Yannick Ngakoue
  • Melvin Ingram
  • Bud Dupree
  • Trey Hendrickson
  • Leonard Floyd
  • Matthew Judon
  • Aldon Smith
  • Romeo Okwara
  • Haason Reddick
  • Deatrich Wise Jr
  • Justin Houston
  • Tyus Bowser
  • Trent Murphy

Quick Notes: This class is STUPID loaded. So much value to be found and some studs at the top if you’re wiling to fork up some money.


  • William Jackson III
  • Richard Sherman
  • Desmond King
  • Mike Hilton
  • Shaq Griffin
  • Troy Hill
  • Chidobe Awuzie
  • Quinton Dunbar
  • Xavier Rhodes
  • Ronald Darby
  • Patrick Peterson
  • Cameron Sutton

Quick Notes: While none of these guys are defense changing #1 cornerbacks, all are quality starters who, depending on their fit, can be impact players. There should be lots of good value in this group.

Wide Receiver

  • Kenny Golladay
  • Will Fuller V
  • Juju Smith-Schuster
  • Corey Davis
  • Antonio Brown
  • TY Hilton
  • Curtis Samuel
  • Marvin Jones Jr.
  • Sammy Watkins
  • Nelson Agholor

Quick Notes: A lot of good talent, but many will come at a high cost. There are some serious #1 receivers at the top and some very good complimentary receivers in the mix.

Tight End

  • Hunter Henry
  • Jonnu Smith
  • Gerald Everett

Quick Notes: Not exactly the strongest class, but Smith and Henry are at the top of it. With it being so top heavy, it will be hard to find good value.


  • Matt Milano
  • Jayon Brown
  • KJ Wright
  • Denzel Perryman
  • Kevin Pierre-Louis
  • BJ Goodson

Quick Notes: Milano and Brown have All-Pro potential with the right team and fit, but both will cost a pretty penny. The Colts are in need of a #3 linebacker in base packages, so they won’t be looking for anyone high end.

Why the Buckner Restructuring is Important

A month ago, I wrote an article about how the restructuring of Buckner’s contract could be very important for the Colts this offseason.

By restructuring his contract, the Colts can gain 12M of cap space and only add on a few million to each of the remaining years of his contract. Buckner would not be taking a pay-cut (as some believe a restructuring does), in fact he would be getting a nice 12M cheque up front and would probably get more job security in future years with higher dead cap figures. After his first season with the team, it sure seems as if Buckner will be with the team for the entirety of his contract.

Adding 12M in a season where teams are strapped for cash is like fishing with dynamite.

Potential Free Agent Targets for the Colts

What 18M can get you - Option 1

  • 5 Colts re-signings at market (but slightly front-loaded) value (Rhodes, Pascal, Muhammed, Carrie, Alie-Cox)
  • Romeo Okwara - 3 years, 22.5M (6M cap hit in 2021)

What 18M can get you - Option 2

  • 4 Colts re-signings at market value (Pascal, Muhammed, Carrie, Alie-Cox)
  • Carl Lawson - 4 years, 48M (8.5M cap hit in 2021)
  • William Jackson III - 3 yeas, 22M (5M cap hit in 2021)

What 18M can get you - Option 3

  • 3 Colts re-signings at market value (Pascal, Muhammed, Alie-Cox)
  • Marvin Jones Jr - 3 years, 33M (8.5M cap hit in 2021)
  • Romeo Okwara - 4 years, 28M (5.5M cap hit in 2021)

What 30M can get you - Option 1

  • 5 Colts re-signings at market value (Rhodes, Pascal, Muhammed, Carrie, Alie-Cox)
  • Romeo Okwara - 3 years, 22.5M (6M cap hit in 2021)
  • Carl Lawson - 4 years, 48M (9M cap hit in 2021)
  • Cameron Sutton - 2 years, 8M (3M cap hit in 2021)

What 30M can get you - Option 2

  • 5 Colts re-signings at market value (Rhodes, Pascal, Muhammed, Carrie, Alie-Cox)
  • Kenny Golladay - 4 years, 84M (17M cap hit in 2021)

What 30M can get you - Option 3

  • 4 Colts re-signings at market value (Pascal, Muhammed, Carrie, Alie-Cox)
  • Carl Lawson - 4 years, 48M (8.5M cap hit in 2021)
  • Alejandro Villanueva - 3 years, 46.5M (12M cap hit in 2021)
  • William Jackson III - 2 years, 12M (4.5M cap hit in 2021)

The Colts’s Advantage

They say cash is king. In the NFL right now, cap space is king.

As of March 10th, 12 teams are currently above the salary cap (have negative salary cap space), an additional 9 teams have less than 20M in cap space, which is an inadequate amount to sign a premium free agent. That leaves the Colts as one of the 11 teams with more than 20M in cap space. So instead of bidding against 20-25 teams, the Colts will be betting against 10 teams.

Supply and demand tells us that when demand for something is down, the price decreases. When supply increases and demand decreases, then there’s a serious price decrease. So in the case of the receiver or defensive end groups where there are a lot of quality players, there could be some seriously good deals. Those would be two great classes for Chris Ballard and the Colts to go after.

The Colts are in prime position this year to make some serious moves in free agency.