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Examining the Colts Salary Cap Situation

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Projected Cap Space

With the salary cap set at 224.8M and the Colts carrying over around 6.6M, their real salary cap limit is around 231.4M. As it stands, they have 216.1M in liabilities of their top 51 highest salaries on top of 4.1M in dead cap space. That puts the estimated amount of cap space at this moment at around 11.2M.

Potential Cap Casualties

If Matt Ryan decides to retire the Colts would gain an additional 29.2M in salary cap space. It’s almost a certainty that Ryan will be gone and with reports surfacing that he is looking to get into broadcasting, it looks like retirement is also likely for him. Freeing up that 29.2M would give the Colts around 40.4M in cap space.

Nick Foles is also a strong candidate for a cap casualty. His release would save the Colts 2M which would put their cap room to 42.4M.

I think it’s fair to say that both Ryan and Foles are likely gone, but after them there isnt a big name that jumps. I believe there’s a chance that Mo Alie-Cox is released after a very underwhelming that saw him get outshined by Jelani Woods. If the Colts were to release Mo Alie-Cox, they would save 2.9M in cap space, bringing their new cap space total to 45.3M.

Any other key player release would be very surprising at this point so it’s safe to assume the Colts will have somewhere between 40 and 46M in cap space by the start of the new league year next month.

Key Free Agents

The following key players are free agents this offseason:

  • Yannick Ngakoue
  • Bobby Okereke
  • Tyquan Lewis
  • Parris Campbell
  • EJ Speed
  • Rodney McLeod
  • Chase McLaughlin

In my opinion, the players the Colts need to keep are Ngakoue, Speed and McLaughlin. Okereke was outplayed for most of the season by Zaire Franklin who showed tremendous improvement and the Colts will be getting Darius Leonard back this season. If they choose to re-sign EJ Speed, a very capable player in his own right, I think Speed would serve as a better value option as the #3 linebacker than Okereke would. The Colts play the majority of their plays with two linebackers so having a big money third option isn’t worth it.

Tyquan Lewis and Parris Campbell are big injury questions. Lewis has missed more than half of games over the past two seasons with a ruptured patellar tendon and other knee issues. Parris Campbell finally played a full healthy season in 2022, but has been plagued with a myriad of other issues in his first 3 seasons that caused him to miss nearly 75% of games, so while this last season was encouraging, he’s still not a safe bet to avoid injuries.

Rodney McLeod had a good season, but he’s getting up there in age (will be 33 at the start of the season) and Rodney Thomas had a big coming out party in 2022 so it would be good to get him full reps with Blackmon.

That leaves Ngakoue, Speed and McLaughlin; how much would they cost to keep?

Ngakoue cost the team 13M this past season and had himself a strong season with 9.5 sacks, 16 hits and a PFR approximate value of 7 in 15 games. My prediction is that he would sign

As for EJ Speed, I project that he gets a deal similar to Zaire Franklin did at around 2-3 years for a little less money per season. I project he gets a 2 year deal at around 2.25M per season.

For Chase McLaughlin, he’s definitely going to get a pay raise as he’s now probably one of the 10-12 best kickers in the NFL. That runs between 3.5 and 4M per season so I project he signs a 2 or 3 year deal at 3.75M per season.

If you add the projected cap hits of those 3 players, you can expect it to be around 21M.

Projecting Actual Cap Space

So if you take into account the projected cap casualties (Ryan and Foles only) and the projected re-signings of Ngakoue, Speed and McLaughlin, that would leave the Colts with around 21-22M in cap space heading into the draft.

We also need to take into account the rookie contracts and that a top 5 pick will carry a decent sized cap hit. The total projected cap hits of all of their draft picks in their current spots is 8M. This accounts for the cap hits of the players minus the players that get bumped out of the top 51.

General managers need to keep around 3-5M during the season for in-season transactions, so if you take that into account plus the draft pick cap hits, that leaves the Colts with 9M in actual cap space.

Potential Free Agent Signings

9M isn’t a lot of money to work with, which means that Ballard is really going to have to hit on this draft, but what can the Colts afford with 9-10M? First, you need to look at their biggest positions of need. If we assume quarterback will be taken with the first pick and don’t include it on the list, the 3 biggest positions of need are:

  • Offensive Line
  • Wide Receivers
  • Defensive Line Depth

Taken into account the amount of money the Colts can really spend, these are good targets the Colts should go for:

Offensive Line Targets

Cameron Fleming - 2 years, 7M contract projection

Fleming is a versatile swing tackle who could also play inside if needed. Good #6 offensive lineman to have.

Jermaine Eluemunor - 3 years, 12M contract projection

Eluemunor had a very good season and might be worth a shot as a relatively low risk, good upside player.

Kelvin Beachum - 1 year, 2.5M contract projection

Beachum is a reliable veteran who could be used as a good backup or a short term starter.

Ben Powers - 4 years, 40M contract projection

Powers would solve a big problem inside as he’s a tremendous pass blocker.

Dalton Risner - 3 years, 27M contract projection

Risner had an off year but in general he’s a very good guard with tackle experience in college.

Wide Receiver Targets

Robert Woods - 1 year, 3M contract projection

Woods might be worth a shot on a cheap, one-year prove it deal.

Jakobi Meyers - 3 years, 27M contract projection

I’m a big Meyers fan and he might be the toughest guy to acquire on this list, but if he was somehow signed, this would give the Colts a legitimate possession receiver who would compliment Michael Pittman Jr perfectly.

Trent Sherfield - 2 years, 4M contract projection

Sherfield has tremendous speed and could be seen as a cheaper replacement for Campbell.

Michael Thomas - 1 year, 8M contract projection

Thomas, like Woods, might be worth a shot on a one-year prove it deal.

Trent Taylor - 2 years, 5M contract projection

Taylor showed flashes of being a very good

Defensive Line Targets

Sheldon Rankins - 2 year, 14M contract projection

The Colts are thin inside and Rankins would give them a versatile guard who can play the 1 or 3 tech spot.

Melvin Ingram - 1 year, 5M contract projection

Ingram had a very nice season in Miami and could be a good rotational pass rusher.

Kyle Van Noy - 2 years, 5M contract projection

Van Noy is versatile and can be used as a pass rusher or as a linebacker.

A’Shawn Robinson - 1 year, 3M contract projection

Robinson is a good backup defensive tackle who can run stop very well.

Poona Ford - 2 years, 14M contract projection

Ford had a bit of a down year, but played very well in 2020 and 2021 so it might be worth a shot to get him and work him in the rotation.

So while it looks like the Colts have a decent amount of cap room flexbility, the reality is they don’t have as much room as you think with around 9-12M in space to spend on free agency. It means that the front office really needs to hit the nail on the head with their draft picks since they won’t be doing much shopping and they definitely can’t afford to be shopping for a free agent quarterback.