INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts in 2018 had the league’s top draft class, saw the triumphant return of their franchise quarterback, put together a 10-win campaign and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
For those reasons alone, it’d be easy for one to conclude that the future in Indy is very bright.
But thanks to some savvy moves made by general manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff, the Colts not only have one of the league’s top up-and-coming rosters, but the team will also enter the 2019 league year this week with the most available cap space in the NFL.
Oh, and nine more picks to work with in April’s NFL Draft.
According to Monday Morning Quarterback’s Albert Breer, citing an internal league report, the Colts will have $101.523 million in cap room available to them when the new league year, and the start of free agency, officially gets underway at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
That’s almost $6.5 million more than the New York Jets, who will have the second-most cap room ($95.024 million), and more than $20 million more than the Cleveland Browns, who have the third-most ($79.043 million):
So what, exactly, does that mean?
Well, first off, there’s a difference between having a lot of money available to spend in free agency, and willingly spending it — at least for Ballard, who has been very methodical about his approach in this area in his first two offseasons as the Colts’ general manager.
Before money is even considered, the Colts’ personnel and coaching staffs meet up at the end of the season and determine which potential free agents-to-be — both in-house and on other rosters — they would want to consider bringing to Indy for the following season.
At that point, the Colts assign values to each potential free agent target. If that dollar figure is considerably more than most other players already on the roster, then it’s a guy the team feels can handle everything that goes along with such a lucrative contract, including their strict locker room guidelines.
“If we think from a free agent standpoint that we are going to go get one of the high-priced (players), we have a very strict criteria that he’s going to have to fit. He’s going to have to fit in the locker room,” Ballard said. “He’s going to have to earn the high salary that he’s making not only with his play, but with his impact and his presence within the locker room.”
And then, once free agency begins, if the bidding gets a little too spicy for the Colts, they aren’t scared to simply move on.
“We put a value on a player and when it gets out of our reach I just think we are comfortable enough to sleep at night saying we are going to find (another) answer,” Ballard said. “Sometimes it might not be the household name that everybody wants us to sign and that’s okay. I get it. But we are going to find an answer, whether it’s in that first window of free agency, maybe it’s the second window, maybe it’s the draft, maybe it’s after the draft, maybe it’s at the cut-down day. There are times to acquire players at all points during the season.”
Another factor to keep in mind when it comes to available cap space is the fact the team wants to reward many of its current players with new deals when the time is right.
For example, key Colts players like Anthony Castonzo, Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron and Jabaal Sheard are all entering their final years of their contracts in 2019. Next year, T.Y. Hilton and, should the team exercise his fifth-year option, Ryan Kelly will be entering contract years. And two years down the road presents the likes of Andrew Luck, Malik Hooker and many members of the 2018 draft class entering the final years of their deals.
“I think just because you have all this space, just look at the roster and look at the contracts that are going to be coming up over the next two to three-year period and you are going to see – eventually what you would like to happen is you are paying your own guys,” Ballard said. “You are rewarding the guys in the locker room who have done the right things for you.”