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Colts’ Salary Cap Update

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Robert Scheer/The Indianapolis Star via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Colts signed left tackle Eric Fisher to a one year deal worth 9.4M, and while it fills a need, it does make the Colts’ cap situation a little tighter than you might think. Here’s the breakdown.

Colts Cap Space before Fisher Signing (according to the NFLPA public report): 21.3M

Colts Cap Space after draft class is signed (only accounting for players whose cap hits will be in the top 51): 17.8M

Colts Cap Space after Fisher Signing (cap hit of 9.4M): 8.4M

If you use up 2M for in-season transactions, that leaves the Colts with 6.4M of carryover for next season.

It has come to light in recent days that the cap hit spike will be in 2023 and not in 2022. I had previously projected that the salary cap would be in the 210M-220M range, but my projection appears to be wrong and that salary cap will be somewhere in the low 200s next season. Some have been using the number of 203M, so that’s the number we’ll use for now.

With the cap at 203M and a carryover of 6.4M, that would put the adjusted cap for the Colts at 209.4M.

After the signing of the entire 2021 NFL Draft class, the Colts will sit around 123.5M in liabilities, which leaves them with 85.9M of cap space for 2022.

Who are the key free agents for the Colts in 2022?

  • Darius Leonard
  • Braden Smith
  • Mark Glowinski
  • Xavier Rhodes
  • Mo Alie-Cox
  • Tyquan Lewis

Other free agents include Kemoko Turay, TY Hilton, Al-Quadin Muhammed, Zach Pascal, Sam Tevi and Isaac Rochell.

Two months ago, I wrote an article projecting the contracts of Leonard and Smith amongst others. I pegged Leonard as a 19.5M per year player and Smith as a 10.25M per year player. In hindsight, Smith would probably more towards 12-13M per year since I should’ve considered the contract of Ja’wuan James and some others as stronger comparisons. I still believe strongly that Leonard will garner a contract like the one I projected.

As a side note, it’s important that the Colts get out in front of the right tackle market (which is expected to have big free agents in 2022) and sign Smith to an extension before some players raise the value of the entire market.

If we assume Smith and Leonard’s combined salary cap hit number in 2022 is going to be around 33M, that would leave the Colts with 52.9M in cap space.

That leaves the Colts that much money to re-sign (if they want) Glowinski, Rhodes, Alie-Cox, Lewis, as well as some of the other names of the not-as-important free agents. It doesn’t however, leave them with a lot of room to go after big name free agents if they choose to re-sign many of those guys.

Say the Colts give the remaining key free agents one year contracts using their cap hit from the 2021 season, and re-sign Turay, Muhammed, Pascal and Tevi doing the same thing, that would leave the Colts with around 29.4M, with the 2022 draft class to sign. That would leave them with 21-24M in cap space, but we know that Ballard likes to carry over money for extensions (which Nelson is due for in 2022). In my opinion, basing it on Ballard’s spending history, I would think that at most 10M would be there to spend on 2022 NFL free agents, which won’t make much of a dent.

I won’t be surprising the masses by already predicting that Chris Ballard won’t be spending too much money in 2022, but in my opinion, the Colts are in a good situation with the salary cap since they have more than enough room to sign their own, including the big stars, and potentially have some money left over to sign a few key free agents, if Ballard decides to sign any at all.

My Suggestion

Here’s what I think Chris Ballard should do and I think it would benefit the team long-term. If the Colts front-loaded the (projected) contracts of Leonard and Smith by 25%, that would cost them almost 41M in cap hits for 2021 (24.4 for Leonard and 16.3M for Smith). It would cost the Colts an additional 8M or so for 2022, but it would make future years a heck of a lot easier with their smaller cap hits, especially with a cap spike expected for 2023. Ballard has gone the front-loaded route before, doing it with DeForest Buckner when he signed his deal in 2020. I believe front-loading both of there contracts would be extremely beneficial since they’ll have the room to do it in 2022 and it would give them tremendous cap flexibility when the cap spikes in future seasons.