Perhaps more than any other team, the Colts need the league and the union to agree on a Collective Bargaining Agreement by Sunday night.
At issue is the fact that the Colts got victimized by bad timing. Last Wednesday, less than 48 hours prior to the end of the league's window for extending the CBA with the union, a special master who arbitrates disputes for the NFL ruled that the Colts couldn't spread out the roster bonuses of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison over the remaining years of their contracts. Other teams hit the same issue earlier and used a loophole to convert roster bonuses to option bonuses instead. But with the tight time window, the Colts got caught in a situation where -- since there was no extension of the CBA -- they couldn't alter the agreements governed by the old rules that were in effect earlier that week. The net impact on the Colts cap is a swing of $14.2 million dollars hanging in the balance. According to a report in the Indianapolis Star, the Colts may seek a legal injunction in regards to the NFL's special master's ruling -- if the league and the union fail to work out their differences by the free agency deadline.
"We're cautiously optimistic that no injunction will need to be filed," Dan Emerson, general counsel for the Colts told the Star.
If the league fails to reach an extension agreement Sunday night, the Colts have another option. Simply don't cut anyone and stay over the cap.
And then see what happens.
It's never happened before, but the current rules state that if a team violates the cap, the commissioner can inflict penalties that can include fines and draft pick penalties. The Colts may try to bide their time and see what penalties the league will try to throw at them -- and then take the whole mess to the courts, giving them even more time to sort it all out. And in the meantime, it provides more time for the league and the union to settle their differences.
With the Colts roughly $10 million over the cap -- based on figures by cap expert David Whiteley -- they may not have to release any players right away if a new extension is reached and the cap is set at $105 million or more. But if no agreement is reached by Sunday night, the Colts may have to resort to the court system to prevent a highly damaging exodus of talent that a $94.5 million cap would create. Or perhaps the team, which has seemed unusually calm in the face of this situation, is expecting yet another twist to be announced Sunday night that would allow them to avoid massive cuts.
But just in case the Colts do have to make some difficult personnel decisions, I looked over the current figures to determine which players would be the most likely candidates for cuts. Here's the list as I see it. And even if some aren't impacted by current conditions, some could be cut in the coming weeks simply due to other available talent in the free agency pool:
RB Dominic Rhodes - By releasing Rhodes, the Colts would reduce their cap hit from $3 million to $1 million. At a savings of $2 million -- combined with his mediocre performance last year and the fact that he's in the last year of his contract anyway -- this would be the easiest decision of all for the Colts.
OT Tarik Glenn -- Release a veteran Pro Bowl lineman who protects Peyton Manning's blind side? Are you serious? Well, only if the Colts have to go into mass exodus mode. Glenn's scheduled to make $7 million this year. But if the Colts release him, his cap hit drops to roughly $4.8 million. They save $2.2 million against the cap by releasing a player who is only under contract through 2007 anyway. That said, I'd hate to see him go due to cap constraints. He's been a standard on this Colts offense.
CB Nick Harper -- The talented veteran cornerback is in the last year of his contract and is due to make $1.2 million. The Colts would take a cap hit of just $500,000 if they release him, freeing up $700,000 in cap space. And despite the comments flying around about Marlin Jackson moving to safety, I don't see it happening. If the Colts really need to save $700,000, here's another logical spot when you figure Jackson's got a year of experience under his belt and Harper could be playing elsewhere in 2007 anyway.
LS Justin Snow -- If the Colts need to save half a million, they
should look no further than long-snapper Justin Snow. They would save almost
$550,000 by releasing him. And while long-snapping is an art of its own, if I
had to pick between Snow and most of the others on this list in an effort to
save half a million against the cap, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
TE Ben Hartsock -- With the Colts' depth at tight end, getting cut as a cap casualty might actually be the best thing for Hartsock. He's in the last year of his deal, and the Colts could save almost $400,000 if they release him.
OL Bo Lacy -- This practice squad player in 2005 would save the Colts $310,000 if released. It was interesting that he wasn't sent to NFL Europe, so perhaps the Colts are seeing development in him that would make him a real bargain as a reserve in 2006.
LB Gilbert Gardner -- The Colts can't really afford to give up on Gardner with their linebacker depth questionable. But he has had some intermittent injury problems and would be a restricted free agent in 2007. There's been some talk that he might switch over to be unrestricted free agent David Thornton's replacement on the strongside if the Colts can't re-sign Thornton. But again, if they have to hit mass exodus mode, and they need to trim $400,000, Gardner could be a guy they consider.
LB Keith O'Neill -- He's a terrific talent on special teams, but will hit the Colts cap for just over half a million this year. I'd like to see them keep him, but at that rate they may have to let him go if the going gets real tough.
Below are a few of players who could provide almost $400,000 each in cap
savings and will be restricted free agents in 2007. The combination of those two factors may result in the Colts taking a look at them as potential candidates if they don't find a way to avoid the deeper cuts:
CB Von Hutchins -- He's a solid backup and special teams player who shows a veteran presence for a young player. Hopefully, the Colts hold onto him.
DE Josh Thomas -- He's missed 8 games in his first two seasons but plays strong and fast when he's on the field.
S Dexter Reid -- Another special teams player who showed a good nose for the ball.
DE Javor Mills -- Spent the 2005 season on IR after being signed as a free agent.