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Colts’ salary cap remains imbalanced toward offense

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 01: Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass durling the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Addressing how a team shapes up against the NFL’s salary cap can be an exercise in futility, especially at this time of year when it’s a moving target.

But in general, it can offer a glimpse at a team’s priorities and how it approaches the construction of its roster.

We give you the Indianapolis Colts. A franchise that leaned heavily on offense during the Peyton Manning years once again finds itself listing in that direction with Andrew Luck under center.

Of course it does.

While the numbers can be a bit fuzzy, it’s clear the Colts are an offensive-driven team in terms of investment and bookkeeping. An analysis of players under contract for 2017 reveals they have about 58 percent of their cap invested on offense. That’s on the high end of the NFL landscape and exceeded by the likes of Dallas (roughly 64 percent), Carolina (62 percent), Pittsburgh (62 percent), New England (62 percent) and the Los Angeles Chargers (61 percent).

Recent actions and pending free agency have exacerbated the lopsided nature of the Colts’ cap budget. Two defensive players who were among nine carrying the heftiest cap charges in 2016 are gone: Robert Mathis ($5 million), who retired, and D’Qwell Jackson ($4.455 million), who was released. Two others will be free agents: Trent Cole ($5.09 million) and Erik Walden ($4.25 million).

Veteran free agency arrives March 9 and according to overthecap.com, the Colts are roughly $54 million under their projected cap of $174.6 million. That figure reflects Jackson’s release and could increase if others are jettisoned (defensive tackle Art Jones comes to mind, which would free up another $5 million).

As was the case when Bill Polian made certain to surround Manning with a quality and high-priced supporting cast – Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, Tarik Glenn, Jeff Saturday, Ken Dilger, Marcus Pollard, Ryan Diem – former general manager Ryan Grigson did the same.

Before Luck signed an extension in June that made him the NFL’s highest-paid player – the deal maxes out at about $140 million through 2021 – Grigson re-signed left tackle Anthony Castonzo, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Dwayne Allen. Each ranks among the top 10 at his position in terms of average pay.

A look at the Colts’ top 10 in terms of the ’17 salary cap:

  • Andrew Luck: $19.4 million
  • Anthony Castonzo: $12.8 million
  • Vontae Davis: $10.25 million
  • T.Y. Hilton: $10 million
  • Art Jones: $7.35 million
  • Dwayne Allen: $5.937 million
  • Patrick Robinson: $4.5 million
  • Kendall Langford: $4.25 million
  • Frank Gore: $3.5 million
  • Adam Vinatieri: $2.75 million

Owner Jim Irsay has sought a more balanced roster makeup in terms of cap management, and upcoming free agency could help with that. By any measure, the Colts must address their deficient defense and that means first-time general manager Chris Ballard investing in high-ticket talent. Proven pass rushers, inside linebackers and cornerbacks aren’t found in the discount bin.

Failing that, the imbalance not only will continue, but widen.

Wideout Donte Moncrief already has received a boost as part of his rookie contract. A provision in the collective bargaining agreement triggered a clause in his contract, boosting his fourth-year base salary from $705,000 to approximately $1.88 million.

Of the Colts’ pending free agents, the main priority seems to be tight end Jack Doyle. The former Cathedral H.S. standout could command a multi-year deal worth at least $6 million a year. And that might be the starting point of negotiations.

Also, the next players in the pipeline to receive new deals are the two holdovers from the 2014 draft, and two more offensive players: Moncrief and guard Jack Mewhort.

It’s imperative for Ballard to bring better balance to the financial makeup of the roster, which means finding restocking the defense through free agency and the draft.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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