Although the Indianapolis Colts struck a five-year, $69-million contract extension Thursday with Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, general manager Ryan Grigson is ever mindful of the salary cap implications.
In his first interview since agreeing to the contract with Hilton, which included $39 million guaranteed, Grigson said the Colts have been aware they would eventually pay big money to keep its core players on the roster.
“We have been preparing for these days for a long time, and I think we have been pretty vigilant and we have been on point about what we have to spend and what will hamstring us in the future,” Grigson said Tuesday. “I have great people in (director of football administration) Mike Bluem and (vice president/general counsel) Dan Emerson that remind me daily of where we are at and we can’t go beyond our cash budget.
“(Owner) Jim Irsay, he trusts us as well, but that is something from day one. We are cash to cap and we pay close attention to our budgets. We don’t want to end up in a spot where we have to be in dire straights again. It’s just not worth it. In the long run, if you want sustained success you can’t have those tremendous holes in terms of your cash or your cap.”
That means being mindful of what’s ahead, be it a new multi-year contract for offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo — the talks are ongoing — and a mega-deal eventually for three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck, who is signed through 2016.
Grigson declined to share any information on negotiations with Castonzo’s agent: “I am not going to comment on active contract negotiations, but I will leave it at that.”
The Colts had salary cap constraints when Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano were hired in 2012, which meant plugging in whatever affordable free agents were available to a roster in need of an influx of talent.
While Grigson has spent millions in free agency, including this past offseason in adding wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore and outside linebacker Trent Cole among others, he realizes the Colts won’t be able to spend as much with Hilton, Castonzo and Luck all eventually commanding lucrative salaries.
Grigson said the Hilton deal made sense because, echoing the comment of Hilton agent Drew Rosenhaus, it benefited both sides. Hilton is just 25, entering his fourth NFL season and is coming off his first Pro Bowl. He’s a playmaker on the rise, the team’s No. 1 wide receiver the past two seasons, and the Colts wanted to ensure Hilton stayed with Luck.
Grigson traded up to draft Hilton in the third round in 2012. General managers don’t like to let their “finds” move on.
“Let me tell you about Drew (Rosenhaus), he’s a deal maker and I like doing business with deal makers because they are motivated,” Grigson said. “The same thing goes for other GM’s, like guys who want to make a deal because a lot of times you have to agree to things that you are not necessarily comfortable with on both sides to get it done. So you have to have two willing parties to find that win-win kind of sweet spot and I think we did.”
Grigson reiterated the contract had to work for both sides.
“I don’t think it would have gotten done if not,” he said. “There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat. There’s the dollars aspect, there’s the way they ascertain value and there’s a way I ascertain value from not only a financial standpoint, but from a football standpoint, from a common sense standpoint.
“There are a lot of things that come into play during a negotiation. It worked out because when you have someone on the other end that you enjoy working with, and we do enjoy working with the Rosenhaus brothers, it worked out.”
Castonzo is the Colts’ No. 1 offensive lineman, one of the NFL’s most underrated players. He takes on some of the league’s best pass rushers and protects Luck’s blind side. The left tackle will command a salary of $9-10 million per year.
Then there’s Luck, who the Colts will want to extend possibly as early as next offseason, which if given a back-weighted contract could provide some initial cap relief. But Luck’s deal is expected to be one of if not the largest in the NFL, perhaps as much as $25 million per year.?
The Colts have been in this position before, when quarterback Peyton Manning was paid top dollar and the team paid well to keep key weapons around him. That meant there wasn’t as much to spend on defense or special teams, which often times affected the team’s overall performance in the playoffs.
While the Colts won one Super Bowl and lost another during the Manning era, Irsay has said he thought the team could have hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy more than once.
And the owner has already said he expects the Colts to win the Super Bowl at least twice during the Luck era.
How Grigson and his executives manage the cap will be a key factor in accomplishing the owner’s goal.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.