Colts might move on without Andre Johnson, Trent Cole, Bjoern Werner, others

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Andre Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 7, 2016) – The one constant in the NFL is roster instability. Players come, players go.

That’s especially true when a team – the Indianapolis Colts – must pick up the pieces from a season that fell well short of its own expectations. There’s no denying injuries to quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck played a major role in the 8-8 record and failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The roster constructed by general manager Ryan Grigson and directed by coach Chuck Pagano is rife with deficiencies. The areas that concern us the most: the offensive line (again), the lack of difference-making talent on defense (again) and the overall age of the roster.

The age factor? The byproduct of the franchise’s undeniable push last offseason to reach Super Bowl 50: of the 22 projected starters heading into 2016, 11 are at least 30 years old. And that doesn’t include Adam Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest player at 43. We’re not including 40-year-old Hasselbeck, one of more than a dozen pending free agents.

Trust us: personnel changes loom. The makeup of the locker room when the Colts’ convene April 21 for the start of their offseason condition program won’t be the same as it was when players cleaned out their lockers Monday.

Some of the change will result from Grigson not re-signing his own free agents. But management also must make personnel decisions regarding players under contract. There are a handful of players whose fate will be determined by age, diminishing skills and salary-cap implications.

The 2016 salary cap has been projected to be in the $154 million range, a bump from this season’s $143 million. According to Overthecap.com’s projections, the Colts have approximately $128 million budgeted against the ’16 cap.

Although the Colts haven’t asked for our advice, it’s worth considering which players under contract are at risk. We’ve included how much the team will save against the cap by moving on, and how much that player will count in so-called dead money.

Probably Gone

  • WR Andre Johnson: He was signed to a three-year, $21 million contract and largely viewed as an upgrade over the departed and injured Wayne, but proved otherwise. Johnson turns 35 in July and provided only glimpses with 41 receptions, 503 yards and four TDs. Savings: $5 million. Dead money: $2.5 million.
  • LB Trent Cole: Again, it seemed like a good idea at the time when Grigson gave Cole a two-year, $14 million deal. The return on the investment was a modest three sacks and 32 tackles. Savings: $6.25 million. Dead money: $1 million.
  • LB Bjoern Werner: It’s time to move on from the 2013 first-round pick. Werner never panned out as a viable pass rusher and has been pedestrian as an “edge-setter’’ on the strong side. His inability to help on special teams led to him being inactive six games this season. Savings: $1.48 million. Dead money: $1.03 million.

Up for Debate

LB Erik Walden: Unlike many observers, we’ve always believed Walden was worth the four-year, $16 million contract he signed in 2013. We still do. Working against him are his age (31 in August) and his non-guaranteed ’16 salary of $4 million. Savings: $4 million. Dead money: $250,000.

DT Art Jones: The team signed him to a five-year, $33 million deal during the 2014 offseason and expected him to be a D-line force. And he still might be. But as coaches are quick to point out, a player’s best ability is availability. An ankle injury limited Jones to nine games and three starts in ’14. Another ankle injury forced him to miss all of ’15. Savings: $2.3 million. Dead money: $3.3 million.

LB D’Qwell Jackson: We only include Jackson because of his age (32) and the ability to free up so much cap space for someone who’s solid against the run but a liability in coverage. If anyone’s asking, keep him. Savings: $5.25 million. Dead money: $500,000.

Should Be No Debate

LB Robert Mathis: His name might be bandied about because of his age (35 in February) and his ’16 cap figure ($5 million). But Mathis provided seven sacks and occasional pocket pressure in his first season after tearing his Achilles. Besides, players returning from such a devastating injury generally are much better in that second season. Savings: $5 million. Dead money: None.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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