Three Colts players are due huge roster bonuses that will have serious cap
implications for the 2006 season.
Quarterback Peyton Manning is due a $9 million roster bonus in addition to his $1 million salary. But would you believe it if I told you that will be the second-highest roster bonus that Jim Irsay pays out for 2006? Wide receiver Marvin Harrison's contract calls for a $10 million bonus on top of his $2 million salary. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Corey Simon is due an $6 million roster bonus and a $2.5 million salary. Between the three of them, they will hit the cap for $30.5 million in 2006. And that doesn't include any prorated portion of previous signing bonuses due to hit in 2006.
Simon finished the season with 26 tackles and 9 assists in 13 games. He didn't have a sack, but got credit for two passes defensed and a forced fumble. It was the first time in his pro career that he completed a season without a sack. But in most passing situations he was replaced by Raheem Brock.
Of course, that begs the question of why a team pays this kind of money to someone who isn't even an every-down player when the defense is on the field? Defensive end Dwight Freeney saw a few less plays this season in obvious running situations, but his foot injury may have had more to do with that than the desire to have him take plays off on running downs. The Colts will likely expect Simon to slim down a bit so they can get a few more downs out of him next season and see him add some pressure on the passer as well. With both Raheem Brock and Larry Tripplett hitting the unrestricted free agent market, the Colts may need more downs out of Simon in 2006 simply due to free agency attrition.
A true fullback ... or a new running back?
For the past two seasons, questions have been raised about the Colts inability to excel in short-yardage situations. And Bill Polian has been searching for the right talent to solve that problem. He says he'll make that his top priority this offseason.
"We're not a good goal-line running team. And we haven't been for quite some time," he said. "...and that is a number one priority for me in the off-season, is making sure that we can bang it in there on third-and-3 when we have to.
"There's a statement in football, it's B.Y.O.B. It
means be your own blocker. And you've got to find a guy that can go hammer it in
"There was so much distance between the right field goal post and the football that city officials were debating on whether or not they should use the space to build a Super Target."
That was Drew Lietzow's witty recollection of Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt's miss against the Steelers that shut the door on the Super Bowl hopes of Colts fans everywhere. The columnist for The Northern Iowan thinks the Colts should let Vanderjagt go elsewhere rather than try to re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent. And according to the New York Post, the team might not make all that big of an effort, noting last week that, "Team brass wasn't pleased that he [Vanderjagt] was taunting the Steelers bench before missing the game-tying kick last Sunday."
With Dallas rumored to be looking for a free agent kicker during the offseason, don't be surprised if Vanderjagt gets a look from the Cowboys in March. And with the Colts re-signing rookie Dave Rayner, they may have set the stage for bringing in a new kicker of their own through free agency to compete for the kicker spot. Despite his very public, crushing miss in his final game of this season, Vanderjagt made 23 of 25 field goal attempts during the regular season and led the team in scoring with 121 points. So he'll still be an attractive prospect for many teams if the Colts don't pursue him.
Not too many people are talking about Colts linebacker David Thornton yet, but he's certainly a viable candidate for having played his last game as a Colt. After starting on the weakside with Indy and posting a career high 108 tackles and 32 assists in his second season, Thornton switched to the strongside and has put up solid numbers in back-to-back seasons. Over his first four years with the Colts, he's amassed 256 tackles, 77 assists, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed and 4 forced fumbles. His intelligence and versatility is bound to draw some interest from other clubs.
But Thornton is also very fond of Tony Dungy and has a personal style that meshes very well with his coach. And he also has a good relationship with fellow linebacker Gary Brackett. How much Brackett and Dungy can anchor Thornton, especially if the Colts don't offer as much money, will be interesting to watch. Brackett and Cato June are also entering free agency, but they're restricted free agents and can be wrapped up fairly tight with a high qualifying tender.
In the past, the Colts have allowed other outside linebackers such as Marcus Washington and Mike Peterson to leave for big contracts, replacing them with younger players like Thornton and June.