The Indianapolis Colts want to get younger for 2016 and need to shed some contracts to free up salary cap space for some offseason spending.
An all-in mentality with the addition of several older players didn’t pan out as the Colts, with a roster that included an NFL-high 18 players 30 years or older, finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
That’s why owner Jim Irsay said the team must get younger moving forward.
But it’s not like the Colts can go on a shopping spree in free agency, as in past years. Quarterback Andrew Luck is set to count a team-high $16 million against the cap. The Colts, as of now, are at $135,448,060 spent (overthecap.com) toward a cap projected at $150-153 million.
Here’s a look at some obvious moves to be expected:
* Wide receiver Andre Johnson showed he lost more than a step in an underwhelming 2015 with 41 catches for 503 yards and four TDs. He turns 35 in July. The Colts have committed to T.Y. Hilton long term and the emergence of Donte Moncrief as well as the potential of Phillip Dorsett makes Johnson the most obvious salary purge. He’ll count $2.5 million in dead money, but the team saves $5 million this season and $6 million for the final year of his contract.
* Outside linebacker Trent Cole wasn’t the pass rusher expected with just three sacks, which tied for the lowest seasonal total of his 11-year career. The good news is his two-year contract was front-weighted, so cutting him means $1 million in dead money versus freeing up $6.25 million. This move seems as obvious as jettisoning Johnson.
* While the Colts won’t get younger by cutting ties with 25-year-old outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, it’s time to accept the 2013 first-round pick is a bust as a pass rusher. He was inactive for six games this season, a clear indication the coaching staff saw more value in playing others. General manager Ryan Grigson thought the Colts could take the 4-3 defensive end from Germany and stand him up as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but it just didn’t work. He’ll count $1.03 million in dead money, but the team saves $1.48 million on the final year of his contract.
* Outside linebacker Erik Walden is coveted for his ability to set the edge against the run, but the team might decide to look at other options considering he had just three sacks last season and cutting him would save $4 million versus just a $250,000 hit in dead money. He turns 31 in August.
* Defensive tackle Arthur Jones has been a disappointment for two seasons in which he’s started just three games due to ankle injuries. He didn’t play a snap last season. Problem is, shedding his contract would mean $3.3 million in dead cap money versus $2.3 million in savings this season. One of the few bright spots was on the defensive line, where defensive end Henry Anderson excelled as a rookie replacement until suffering a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game. Because it typically takes players about a year to recover from ACL surgery, the Colts will likely stick with Jones and hope he can finally stay healthy and be the strong presence they overpaid for in 2014.
* The team’s defensive leader is inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who was second in the league in tackles. But he turns 33 in September and struggles in pass coverage. The Colts will probably stick with him, but moving on translates to $500,000 in dead money versus saving $5.25 million.
* Some might ask about outside linebacker Robert Mathis turning 35 in February and the fact he’ll cost $5 million against the cap in the final year of his contract. But Mathis is the Colts’ only proven pass rusher on the outside; he tied with defensive end Kendall Langford for the team lead with seven sacks. Mathis was coming off a torn Achilles injury that cost him 2014 and got stronger as the season continued. This could be his final year, but the Colts should keep the team leader.
Then comes Johnson, who would rank fifth against the cap, Cole sixth, Jackson seventh, Jones eighth, Mathis ninth and Walden 10th.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.