Wilson's Word: Mulling Colts' cap numbers

Several key players are on the verge of getting paid, including quarterback Andrew Luck and left tackle Anthony Castonzo, so Colts won't have as much to spend as it might appear.

A few salary cap numbers jump off the computer screen when analyzing the Indianapolis Colts’ dollar amounts for next season.

Left offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo is going to count $7,438,000 against the cap, a rather significant jump from $2,545,803. And it’s the last year of the former first-round pick’s initial NFL contract.

Not to sound too smart about cap stuff — let’s consider the rest of this latest rambling a bunch of suggestions — but the Colts might be wise to give their best blocker a new deal and split up the guaranteed numbers to get some cap relief.

I say that because there are a lot of other serious numbers to worry about.

While we read several writers and Web sites reporting that the Colts are well under the projected 2015 cap, anywhere from $25 to $30 million, it’s a bit misleading. Unless I’m missing something, that is, because this team has a lot of guys on the roster who are on the verge of getting paid.

Paid real well, that is.

The team can exercise a one-year option on quarterback Andrew Luck now that he’s completed the 2014 season. Luck is scheduled to count $7,034,363 against the cap in 2015, which is an incredible deal when considering that number ranks 19th among NFL quarterbacks.

As we learned from the Peyton Manning Era, all that is about to change. There’s been speculation that the team will try to negotiate a new deal for Luck this offseason, perhaps to get some long-term savings because the contracts are just going to keep going up.

There’s no denying the franchise quarterback who has been to three consecutive Pro Bowls has earned whatever he can make. What’s interesting is that when Colts owner Jim Irsay was asked about it after the Colts’ AFC Championship Game loss at New England, he said Luck’s contract wasn’t one of the top priorities. Irsay reiterated, in his mind, that the team still had him under contract for two years.

OK, fair enough. And when you consider Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is going to count $27.7 million against the cap next season, well, maybe waiting another year to get a Luck deal done gives the Colts one more year to enjoy having extra money to spend elsewhere.

When considering that, don’t look any farther than wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. He just made his first Pro Bowl. He’s blossomed into the Colts’ No. 1 pass catcher, has the kind of game-changing speed and play-making ability that isn’t always easy to discover in the draft. He’s also entering the final year of his contract.

Oh, and Hilton’s cap hit is $796,850.

Yeah, read that again, $796,850.

Not to besmirch the reputation of a player position, but wide receivers can be divas. They make plays, the attract a lot of attention and they expect to get paid top dollar when this happens. Hilton hasn’t made any noise about contract concerns, but I’m guessing his agent will be wanting to address this sooner as opposed to later.

Stand pat on the notion that the team has no obligation to pay T.Y. and he might just decide to test free agency after 2015 and not bother to bargain after next season starts. It’s been done before. Not saying he would do it, but that’s the danger to letting a keeper get close to free agency. That’s when an agent shows his client the numbers of other top wide receivers, how much they make, and it sure sounds like a smart business decision to go to the highest bidder as opposed to accepting whatever your current employer is offering.

So get Castonzo and Hilton signed now. If Luck makes sense, OK, but you know you’re going to be paying him within the next year. You aren’t going to let him get to the last year, no matter what. At the very least, No. 12 gets an extension near the end of the 2015 season. Even if he gives the team a bit of a discount so it can have more money to spend on building a team around him, accept the reality that whatever Luck gets it’s going to be a huge cap hit.

Factor in that wide receiver Reggie Wayne, defensive end Cory Redding, safeties Mike Adams and Sergio Brown are about to become unrestricted free agents, which means you’ve got positions to fill, either with them or spending a bit in free agency. Everyone always has the idea that a team can spend $40 to $50 million on the best free agent available, but keep the Colts’ cap numbers in mind when suggesting the team should break the bank for a guy.

There’s also a new draft class to pay. And a year from now, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will be on the radar for getting paid.

It’s fair to say general manager Ryan Grigson will have to be smart, this offseason and next. The Colts will have to earmark a lot of money for key players. And they’ll probably lose a few along the way.

It would appear, for now, the Colts should start with T.Y., Castonzo and Luck, then go from there.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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