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Indianapolis Colts Make Smart Roster Moves but Shock Fans: Local Fan Take
While most Indianapolis Colts fans saw the writing on the wall that Peyton Manning would be released, not many saw the freight train coming on March 9 before it hit. The release of Colts staples Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Joseph Addai, and Melvin Bullitt—oh, and Curtis Painter, too—was like a punch to the gut for fans.
Like the release of Manning, though, as difficult as those cuts are to swallow, they are necessary.
With the team reeling from its 2-14 abomination of a 2011 season, it's time for full-blown rebuilding in Indianapolis. To Colts fans, who have enjoyed over a decade of their team's success on the field, this is not familiar territory. But rebuilding has to go beyond replacing a legend at quarterback. Rebuilding means gutting the team of aging, declining, expensive, and, in some cases, oft-injured veterans to make salary cap space for a newer, younger, cheaper roster on which to build.
It's the NFL equivalent of dispatching Old Yeller. Nobody likes to do it, but it has to be done.
In the case of Clark, he'll turn 33 years old in June and would have counted $8 million against the 2012 salary cap, which was just revealed to be set at $120.6 million. He has only played in 17 games over the past two seasons combined, contributing just 699 receiving yards and five touchdowns over those two years. Eight million is a lot of money to pay for those pedestrian stats.
Brackett would count $7.4 million against the cap. He'll turn 32 in May and is a perpetual injury risk. He only played in one game last season, and he hasn't turned in a full 16-game season since 2007.
Addai would have been a $4.8 million cap hit, and he lost his starting job to Delone Carter and Donald Brown last year. He'll turn 29 in May, which is usually the beginning of the end for running backs, and like Brackett, he can't stay healthy. He only played in eight games in 2010 and 12 games in 2011. He hasn't turned in a 1,000+ yard performance since 2007 and has only done it twice in his six-year career—in 2006 and in 2007. In three of his seasons, he topped out at 544 (2008), 495 (2010), and 433 (2011) rushing yards. He scored once last year.
Bullitt, 27 years of age, would have cost the Colts $3.7 million against the cap, and we haven't seen him on the field much in the past two years, thanks to two consecutive season-ending shoulder injuries. In fact, in the past two seasons, he has appeared in a combined total of six games.
And then there's Painter. There's really no need to justify his release to Colts fans. He was to cost the team $638,000 against the cap next season.
For those without a calculator handy, that's a total of $24.5 million in cap space cleared up. That would have been roughly 20 percent of the 2012 cap tied up in five aging, declining players.
More to Come
Colts fans shouldn't expect Dwight Freeney back for 2012, either. He'll be a $19 million cap hit.
Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Jeff Saturday, and Ryan Diem are all likely gone, too. None of them are under contract for 2012. Anthony Gonzalez has already been informed that he's gone—not that the always-injured receiver ever contributed much of anything to the team.
Still, even with all of these players leaving, or likely leaving, the Colts are in salary cap hell. Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star explains why:
"When players are cut, their prorated bonuses, money that has been paid but not counted against the cap, accelerate and become due. So the Colts have nearly $38 million in dead money this year. That means that if the cap remains at $120 million, where it was for 2011, they will have about $82 million to fashion their roster."
If the Colts can't unload Freeney, then, his $19 million cap hit will mean that over 23 percent of the team's usable cap money is wrapped up in one player. Teams carry 53 players on their regular season rosters. It doesn't take long to realize how catastrophic Freeney's contract will be to a rebuilding team.
Indianapolis is also going to have to pay through the nose for whoever they draft with the No. 1 pick—either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was selected No. 1 overall last year, was signed to a four-year $22 million contract—all of it guaranteed. Expect Luck or Griffin to get something at least as rich, if not richer.
It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday
Colts fans are traveling into uncharted territory. We haven't had to rebuild since somewhere around 1998. It's so hard to say good bye to all of the familiar faces who have lifted the Colts from years of being the Dolts to years of being among the elite teams in the NFL. And we have more painful changes coming, followed by what's likely to be a few painful years of really bad football to endure.
It's all part of the process, though. It's the circle of life in the NFL. While we mourn the loss of our favorite players, Colts fans, don't lose faith in owner Jim Irsay or general manager Ryan Grigson. Every NFL team goes through this cycle. It's difficult to come to grips with the realization that our favorite Colts are not immortal, but it's a simple fact of football life. The glory days are gone.
In time, though, with these roster moves starting the process, the glory days will return to Indianapolis.
The author is a resident of central Indiana and a longtime Colts fan. He's also a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedZoneWriting and on Facebook.
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