Release or Re-sign: Ryan Diem:

We take a look at some of the highest-salaried players for 2007, their numbers for 2008, and analyze if the Colts could be better off without that player -- or if his production and the quality of his backup compensate for his cap number. The first player on the list is Ryan Diem.

In terms of salary for 2007, Diem ranked sixth overall on the Colts roster.  He was behind such stars as Wayne, Harrison, Manning, and Mathis, as well as Raheem Brock, but sixth overall and with a total salary of a little over $8 million, it's safe to say that he was a high-priced contributor and certainly making a large amount for a right tackle.

When Diem first signed a 7-year deal worth $36 million with Indianapolis following the 2004 season, it was said that he would make $19 million in the first three years of the contract, leaving $17 million for 2008-11, the final four years of the contract.

While it would make sense to keep him for the four "cheap" years after having already endured the three expensive ones, the contract is fairly balanced and the Colts would see some much needed cap relief if they cut ties with Diem before the start of free agency.

According to an NFL source, he's scheduled to earn $3.5 million in salary, with a $6.3 million cap number for 2008.  If Indianapolis releases him before March, they can also save the $500,000 roster bonus that he is due.  And, if they take the pro-rated cap hit from his signing bonus all this offseason — which is $5.7 million — they clear the books for the remainder of his contract, which is an additional $10.7 million that can be used in 2009-11.  They would also realize a cap savings of $600,000.

Ryan Diem hoists the Lombardi Trophy
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Though Diem is not your typical cap casualty — a veteran over 30 whose skills are in decline — he does not play a position on the line that is integral to the offensive line, such as left tackle or center, and is not among the top 10 players at his position.

In fact, as Ed Thompson observed in his analysis of the offensive line, Diem is really not even among the top 5 players on his own offensive line.  Throughout the course of the 2007 season, Indianapolis had more success running behind the left side of the offensive line than the right, and were successful running to Diem's side, but behind behind Jake Scott.

When they tried to run off tackle to his side, they had their worst average rushing output among the statistics analyzed.

But, no matter how much a player makes, or how much he may be underperforming as compared to his salary, a team always needs to take a long look down the bench and see if they have a suitable replacement for the departed player if they were to release him.

Enter Charlie Johnson. Though it's true that Johnson does have his critics at ColtPower, myself included, I was mainly critical of his play when he stepped in for the injured Tony Ugoh at left tackle.

Charlie Johnson
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When substituted at right tackle for Diem, he played well and their was no dropoff in production at his side.  It's true that the production from Diem was the lowest of any of the starting five, but it's also true that Johnson was handicapped by the fact that he was playing an unfamiliar position and often didn't know whether or not he was going to be the starter until the Saturday before the game.

With a full season of OTAs, mini-camps, and training camp, as well as the pre-season, Johnson should improve next season and surpass what the Colts got out of Diem in 2007.

And there is also the small matter of Johnson's contract, with the emphasis on small.  His cap numbers for the next two years are $465,000 and $550,000.

If the Indianapolis brass decides that Johnson is a solid player and that they would like to have him in the lineup the foreseeable future, they will be in a much better bargaining position following the 2008 season with Johnson than they are now. 

Johnson is an undrafted free agent that will have only one full season of experience when the Colts come to the negotiating table in 2009, whereas Diem already has 99 career starts and it is always easier to release a player than to ask him to reduce his salary.

Therefore, it is not shortsighted of the Indianapolis front office to release Diem only to find themselves in the same situation next offseason.

They may sign Johnson to a long-term contract in 2009, but then they would probably not have to worry about a situation such as this until 2012.

At that time, there might be some young, undrafted free agent that is looking to taking Johnson's place.

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