Lockout Threat Leaves Indianapolis Colts’ Agenda in Limbo

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Well, it hasn’t happened yet.

The extension of the NFL collective bargaining agreement’s expiration deadline by one day Thursday and then by seven days Friday has had the football world — including the Indianapolis Colts organization and fan base — holding its collective breath.

However, if and when the CBA does expire — I’m still inclined to believe it will — Jim Irsay’s and Bill Polian’s offseason agenda will be set to the side with significant issues yet to be resolved.

And I’d assume those issues are far more numerous than Indy’s brass would prefer them to be.

By Drew Allen

While Irsay and his fellow NFL owners prepare to resume labor talks this week in Washington, D.C., let’s look briefly at some of those offseason priorities for the Colts, duties the franchise will be unable to address if a work stoppage comes into effect.

  • Peyton Manning’s contract. This one’s the no-brainer. Since the Colts placed the exclusive franchise tag on their future Hall of Fame quarterback in mid-February, Indy has been working to sign Manning to a long-term extension — one that would make him the highest-paid player in NFL history — before the CBA expires. With the most recent delay in the CBA’s expiration, the organization now has another week to ink Manning, but the four-time MVP’s agent, Tom Condon, has sounded pessimistic that a deal would be done any time soon. Entering a lockout without extending Manning is risky business, however. For one, the Colts will not be permitted to negotiate with Manning and Condon during the lockout. Secondly, there’s no guarantee that the franchise tag will be in the next CBA, and if it isn’t, then Manning might still be eligible for free agency once work resumes. Just a possibility. It’s not all doom-and-gloom, but it’s probably an uncomfortable situation. On a related note …
  • Re-signing and tendering other free agents. Manning is the elephant in the room and the top priority for Polian and the Colts’ front office, but other players — key players — also are due to hit the open market. Among those players are seven regular starters, including Joseph Addai, Clint Session, Melvin Bullitt and Adam Vinatieri. The interesting dilemma the Colts face with regards to these players is whether the new CBA implements the salary cap. Under cap regulations, each of those four guys would be unrestricted free agents (each has spent at least four seasons in the NFL). However, if there’s no cap, Addai, Session and Bullitt would still be restricted free agents and would be subject to tender offers, and Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star has reported that the Colts have done so with Addai and Bullitt. Vinatieri will stay in Indy if the franchise still wants him, but I’d say the Colts need to do whatever they can do to retain Session and perhaps Addai and Bullitt if the results of the new CBA agreement have an effect similar to that of the franchise tag. The labor complications could prevent them from securing these players not only in the near future but also in the distant future.
  • Any other planned personnel moves. We’ve been hearing rumblings while following the Manning negotiations that the Colts would like to bring in a quality free agent or two, something that would deviate from the organization’s well-known philosophy of re-signing its own players and building almost exclusively through the draft. Needless to say, a lockout would prevent Indy from doing that. If a work stoppage were to last until, say, August or September, the Colts wouldn’t have the opportunity to explore veteran free agency as thoroughly as they might prefer, especially with the franchise’s focus once again being on re-signing Manning and securing its own free agents for the 2011 season. Whether or not Indy really plans to invest big bucks in veteran free agency, a lockout would prevent even the chance to explore the available options.
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