What a Turn of Events for Indianapolis Colts

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The only post-NFL lockout hangup for the Indianapolis Colts seemed to be signing quarterback Peyton Manning to that record deal owner Jim Irsay promised him before the league shut down.

Now the 132-day work stoppage is over, and Manning’s new contract didn’t break any records on the whole — at his request.

Manning and the Colts agreed to terms Saturday on a five-year, $90 million deal that averages out the same as the contract of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. And Indy is already benefiting.

Apparently Manning never had a desire to be the highest-paid player in the league. That’s what he told the Indianapolis Star on Friday.

“While I appreciate Jim Irsay offering to make me the highest-paid player, I told him I’d rather he save that money and keep whoever it is . . . Joe Addai, Charlie Johnson — whoever that may be,” Manning told Indianapolis Star reporter Mike Chappell via telephone. “I’m willing to take less than they’ve offered if they are going to take that money to keep players we need to keep and go get other players.”

Well, so far, Peyton’s deal has allowed for it.

Shortly after announcing the four-time MVP’s contract, Indy announced it had signed Addai, a valuable piece in the Colts’ offense, to a contract while not disclosing the terms. The team already had re-signed safety Melvin Bullitt and kicker Adam Vinatieri while allowing linebacker Clint Session to take a five-year, $30 million contract with division rival Jacksonville.

The new $120.1 million salary cap instituted by the new collective bargaining agreement, which was approved by owners and players last Monday, didn’t allow for all Colts to remain.

The team had to shed the contract of cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who has excelled at times as a zone corner but didn’t quite fit new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer’s more aggressive scheme. Hayden also battled injuries during his time in Indy even before signing his five-year extension after the 2008 season.

Let’s examine each move more closely:

  • Re-signed safety Melvin Bullitt to multi-year deal. While plenty of Colts fans are upset about letting Session get away, let’s be frank here: Bullitt always was going to be the defensive starter the team retained. Before missing 12 games last season, Bullitt had been a reliable pawn to insert at strong safety while starter Bob Sanders was out with his own injuries, and he became a fixture both on the defense and special teams units, being named a co-captain of the latter. Re-signing Bullitt was a smart, cheap move that shouldn’t handicap the Colts much. Plus, safety is a low-value position that doesn’t necessarily require high-profile, high-flying stars in the lineup despite dynamic players at the position, like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. Bullitt is a low-key, scrappy defender who has excelled in pass coverage.
  • Re-signed Adam Vinatieri to three-year deal. I wasn’t sure the Colts would bring back Vinatieri because of his age, but given how kickers really have done well on the market this year, Indy probably didn’t have a less expensive option at the ready. Vinatieri’s long-range kicking has grown suspect as he has aged, but he still can be relied upon for the most part whenever he’s called for duty. He made 26 of 28 field goal attempts in 2010, his longest from 48 yards out. Punter Pat McAfee’s handling the kickoff duties lightened Vinatieri’s workload last season, and he can expect the same role in 2011.
  • Did not retain Clint Session, who signed with the Jaguars. Many Colts fans were upset with losing Session, and that’s understandable because of his aggressive style of play and his personality. Many attributed his departure to the complications surrounding Manning’s contract. That’s false. Session never was going to receive a five-year, $30 million extension from the Colts. Indy traditionally has allowed its outside linebackers to leave via free agency (ex. Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington, David Thornton, Cato June). Session is only the latest. Additionally, he became an injury liability in 2010, playing in just five games.

And, of course, the big one.

  • Re-signed Peyton Manning to five-year, $90 million deal. The “take less” idea surrounding Manning’s new contract actually could be considered deceptive. He will make $23 million each of the first three years and then will make the rest over the final two. However, the deal does offer the Colts approximately $10 million in cap relief, which is a big reason they were able to bring back Addai. That probably comes to be from converted signing bonus as Manning has done in restructuring previous contracts. Regardless of whether he’s actually taking less money as he said he’d be willing to do, Indy can exhale now that its franchise player is signed to what might be his final professional contract. The five-year length could be concerning, especially since Manning, 35, is coming off neck surgery that will force him to miss the opening of training camp, but as center Jeff Saturday said, the Colts go as Manning goes. This had to be done.

And Saturday’s final events after agreeing to terms with Manning.

  • Released Kelvin Hayden. There had been much speculation that this could happen once the CBA and $120.1 million salary cap had been agreed upon. Hayden signed a five-year, $43 million contract after the 2008 season, and he was due to make slightly more than $9 million in 2011. The Colts simply were not going to pay Hayden that much money under the new cap rules. He would either have his contract restructured, which was initially what the team planned to do, or he would be cut, which is what happened shortly after Manning agreed to terms. Hayden has been effective in zone coverage when healthy, but that’s the thing: he appeared in no more than 11 games in each of the past three seasons. The Colts’ transition to a more aggressive defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Larry Coyer also influenced the move. The Colts will lose an effective player, but they felt the cap relief was more valuable than Hayden at this point.
  • Re-signed Joseph Addai to undisclosed deal. It appeared more and more likely that Addai would leave via free agency as the previous week wore on with the Colts tied up in discussions with Manning. However, Manning’s comments Friday altered everything. The quarterback’s cap-friendly deal opened the door for the team to bring back Addai, and each party came out a winner. While Addai might not be one of the league’s best rushers, he’s quite valuable to the Colts’ offense as it is constructed presently. His pass-blocking and pass-catching skills are perfect for the team’s Manning-led attack, and his presence can allow for further development among backs Donald Brown and rookie Delone Carter. Losing Addai would have left a gaping hole in the Colts’ offense with no proven commodity at the running back position (especially in terms of pass protection), and it was in the best interest of the team to retain Addai. Fortunately for Indy, that happened.

While the Colts have managed that heavy lifting, they still have a few key decisions to make as they prepare to open training camp practices Monday in Anderson, Ind. Among them:

  • Re-sign Charlie Johnson. This was another name Manning mentioned specifically, and with good reason. The Colts drafted Anthony Castonzo in the first round with the idea he would start at left tackle. Apparently, the lockout has hindered Castonzo’s development, and he might not be ready to assume that spot Week 1. Johnson could hold the floor at left tackle, where he has topped the depth chart the past two seasons, until Castonzo is ready to go. At that time, Johnson could just slide over to guard, and Indy’s offensive line could make nice strides.
  • Make a decision on Ryan Diem. More offensive line housekeeping. Diem, the team’s long-time starting right tackle, is due $5.4 million in 2011. His disappointing play lately hasn’t exactly lined up with that kind of pay, so the Colts might be looking to either restructure his deal or release him. There’s plenty of reason to keep Diem on the roster, including continuity and depth. However, I can see where the team might be OK with cutting him loose. The Colts drafted Ben Ijalana in the second round. Ijalana is capable of playing guard or tackle, and the plan might be to eventually move him to the right tackle spot. If he’s ready, Indy might be comfortable parting ways with Diem and his cap number.
  • Sign remaining draft picks. Three draftees are signed and ready to tackle camp — second-rounder Ijalana, fourth-rounder Carter and sixth-round cornerback Chris Rucker. That leaves Castonzo and third-round defensive tackle Drake Nevis. The Colts usually have all their draft picks signed the day the team reports to camp. No reason to expect otherwise this year.

Of course, the team could always look at outside free agents for the right price, but hey, the Colts didn’t hear that from me.

By Drew Allen

 

 

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