But no word of restructured deals came out of Indianapolis the last two days. In fact, we verified that as of the time the new NFL year began, the team's most likely candidate for an extension to give the team some relief from his $5 million cap hit — center Jeff Saturday — did not have a new deal in place.
So what gives? How did the Colts get under the cap, especially in light of the fact that they committed an additional $4.635 million in cap space when they tendered five of their restricted free agents right before the deadline? And how do they expect to do anything at all in the free agent market?
The answer lies in the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, where it's revealed that the Colts actually have a salary cap of more than $116 million. And in fact, so do many other teams.
The Colts have some extra cash to try to keep players like Ben Utecht
That's because teams can actually create a credit for the next cap year through some shrewd moves in a season where they have extra cap space available. The team builds performance bonuses into players' contracts that qualify under the league's "likely to be earned" bonus categories to use up remaining cap space in their current season. But in many cases, these clauses are put into players' contracts who have little chance of actually hitting those performance goals. As a result, at the end of the year, the team has unused "likely to be earned" dollars that — under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement — are then credited to them in the next league year.
Sound confusing? It can be, unless you're well-versed in legalese, or a shrewd NFL general manager.
Colts President Bill Polian fits both characteristics, and he's managed to structure an extra $6,501,115 worth of bonuses into his player's contracts last year that weren't earned. With the cap adjustment the team received from the league, since the Colts already took the hit for that money in 2007, the Colts salary cap this offseason is actually $123,230,115. That gave them more than enough room to offer the restricted free agents their tenders while still having around $2 million left over. With the other cuts they made leading up to the start of the year, Indianapolis now sits roughly $3 million under their $123 million cap.
That's good news for the Colts, who, for the last week, have appeared to be at risk of losing valuable players such as Darrell Reid, Ben Utecht and Matt Giordano. Now, the Colts may still not be able to keep all their restricted players if other teams drive the bidding too high, but the team does have a little more cash in its coffers to bring to the negotiating table.
To learn more about this little-known provision in the CBA, check out this story by SI.com's Reuben Frank. Frank also has a list of all 32 NFL teams and their adjusted cap numbers in that piece.
If you have more questions about the salary cap, free agency, or anything else Colts-related, Scout.com NFL Senior Analyst Ed Thompson will be stopping by ColtPower for a chat Sunday at 2 p.m. EST.