There’s been so much speculation from unnamed sources suggesting the Indianapolis Colts are seriously interested in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh that we all know how to spell his first name from memory.
It doesn’t matter that a few of us who cover the Colts — and have done so for quite a while — have tried to tell fans it’s not going to happen. Well, never say never, but I’ve been unable to justify adding $17 million per year in salary for how many years he’s expecting to become the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
And now there’s another report that the Colts are interested in Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, although that doesn’t add up, either. He played only one game last season due to a domestic violence arrest, and now the Colts are going to add him to a team that’s had too many off-field issues in the last year?
Where is all this stuff coming from? Because the Colts don’t share information about what they’re going to do. The educated guess it that a few agents are talking, but that’s often self-serving to influence other interested teams. It doesn’t always translate to as much genuine interest as has been reported.
In 16 years of covering the Colts, I can’t remember the last time there was this much buzz about free agency. Seriously, it’s as if every day there’s a new report that has social media hopping.
The NFL is definitely a year-round business. When the games stop, it’s time for all of us to analyze the immediate future, which players should be kept or cut, who deserves a new contract, the restricted free agents who make sense for one-year tenders.
There’s been too much talk about how the Colts could be big spenders. Well, too much chatter without perspective. It’s as if some think the Colts have an open checkbook because they’re about $40 million under the salary cap. But that’s not how it works.
Free agency officially begins Tuesday. And it can’t get here soon enough.
Maybe then some order will be restored when we read how many millions are being shelled out by NFL teams for so many of the oft-mentioned guys on the market. Hopefully then Colts general manager Ryan Grigson will add some key pieces with sensible contracts, if that’s possible. At the very least, hopefully he won’t over-spend as much as other teams are sure to do.
And that starts with Suh. Spend on him and it will impact how your team is structured down the line. In the case of the Colts, quarterback Andrew Luck is going to get paid in the next year or two. That’s going to be $20 million per year for five to seven years. The three-time Pro Bowl passer is entering the final year of his rookie deal, although the team does have another one-year option, so that means the two-year clock is ticking on a new contract.
So having Luck and Suh together eventually would count at least $37 million toward the Colts’ cap. Just simple math, but that leaves maybe $125 million for the rest of the team, if in fact the projected cap grows to $162 million in 2016. If the cap climbs some more by 2017, it’s all relative, there’s still not going to be as much to spend on the rest of the team.
What about paying offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo or wide receiver T.Y. Hilton after 2015? Try to remember those guys are entering the final years of their contracts. They’re going to cost a lot to keep. It’s not like the Colts can just part with their best blocker on the O-line and Luck’s No. 1 receiver.
People should remember how this team was structured back in the Peyton Manning era. We moaned forever about when would the Colts build a defense to match the Manning offenses? The one time it clicked, coach Tony Dungy and head coach Bill Polian were able to get enough players on that side of the ball by looking for a different skillsets in the draft and free agency, guys who were fast and somewhat undersized, players who weren't valued as highly by other teams.
That meant the Colts got pushed around at times by opponents who played smashmouth football. But the system did work enough to win a dozen regular-season games seemingly every year and the team hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy once at Super Bowl XLI.
The Colts have been trying to build a decent defense since Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano were hired in 2012. Optimists will tell you it’s been a gradual work in progress. Skeptics will remind that the New England Patriots ran the ball down the Colts’ throats in each of the past two postseasons.
A defense doesn’t get built by spending it all on one player. A defense succeeds with several talented players in a successful scheme. And they’ve got to play together. The 3-4 works when played properly. We’ve seen it around the league for years. But the Colts need several players to plug some holes if they hope to see the kind of improvement necessary to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Maybe the new free-agent additions won’t make the kind of splashes that fans crave, but it’s important to maintain a big-picture perspective about this. Spend too much on a few guys and we’ll be seeing the Colts in cap hell inside of two or three years.
Like I said, Tuesday needs to hurry up and arrive. The hunch is fans will be upset when the Colts don’t go crazy on every guy they think the team should sign.
Forget about Suh. Look at who the Colts go after. See if the guys make sense, in terms of team needs and cap-friendly contracts.
If so, the Colts will be better off, moving forward. If not, then there’s trouble ahead. Mark my words.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.