5 moves Colts could make to add $45 million in salary cap space
Though much of the focus for the Indianapolis Colts surrounds the incoming rookie quarterback, there are some moves they need to make in order to save some money against the salary cap.
Unlike most offseasons, the Colts aren’t flush with cash. According to Over The Cap, the Colts currently sit with $12.2 million in salary-cap space. That’s not a whole lot to work with considering the needs they must address.
We shouldn’t expect the Colts to go wild in free agency even if they were to make every move here to free up significant salary cap space. But with a rich contract coming in from a top-four selection in the draft, along with any other free agents, the Colts need to make room.
Not all of these suggestions will come to fruition, but there is a path for the Colts to clear a significant amount of salary-cap space this offseason.
Here are five moves they could make to free up roughly $45 million against the cap:
Release QB Matt Ryan
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Cap Savings: $17.2 million
The most obvious cut candidate for the Colts is the veteran quarterback. While a trade would save the Colts roughly $29 million against the cap, that scenario is a pipe dream. No team is going to take on that contract after the disastrous 2021 season. Ryan’s retirement would do the same, but he doesn’t owe the Colts anything so we shouldn’t expect that.
The Colts are going to draft a quarterback at the end of April, and Ryan is far too expensive to be a backup even if his knowledge of the game would be an invaluable resource. The Colts must do this before the third day of the new league year (March 17), which is when his guarantees kick in for the 2023 season.
Restructure DeForest Buckner
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Cap Savings: $9.3 million
The Colts could save a whopping $19.75 million by releasing or trading Buckner. But we shouldn’t expect that to happen. He’s the engine of the defense, a revered captain in the locker room and one of Chris Ballard’s favorite players. We shouldn’t expect the team to move on from him, and the defense would be worse off if they did.
However, Buckner has no more guarantees over the final two years of his contract. The Colts could convert his 2023 base salary ($18.75 million) and roster bonus ($1 million) into a signing bonus. Taking his base salary down to $1.165 million—the minimum for a seven-year veteran—would spread the remaining $18.6 million over the next two seasons and would save the Colts $9.3 million against the cap this season.
They could convert less of his base salary, but it wouldn’t yield as many savings.
This move would add the other $9.3 million to Buckner’s $20.25 million cap hit for 2024, but the Colts are expected to have far more salary-cap space next season so it gives them a bit more flexibility.
Trade or release CB Kenny Moore II
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Cap Savings: $8.2 million
Trading or releasing Moore will have the same effect. Either way, Moore would save the Colts over $8 million in salary-cap space if he’s not on the roster for the 2023 season.
The most beneficial way for both sides is a trade with the Chicago Bears. Since the Colts may want to move up to the No. 1 overall pick, Moore could be included in that potential deal. Assuming Gus Bradley returns as defensive coordinator, the fit with Moore wasn’t as strong as it was under Matt Eberflus, who is currently the Bears head coach.
The Colts could also simply release Moore this offseason and save the same amount of money. But at least the trade could benefit both sides.
Release QB Nick Foles
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Cap Savings: $2.1 million
This one is easy. Foles only signed with the Colts last offseason because of Frank Reich. He’s not here anymore, and it’s unlikely Foles would have any qualms about being released after the beating he took against the New York Giants.
Release or trade C Ryan Kelly
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Cap Savings: $7.9 million
This last one is a bit tricky. Kelly is considered the anchor of the offensive line even if he hasn’t been playing up to expectations during the last two seasons. In 2021, he allowed the second-most pressures and fifth-most sacks among centers. In 2022, he allowed the sixth-most pressures and third-most sacks among centers. He simply isn’t playing like the center the Colts expect him to (or are paying him to be).
The issue with Kelly is who will replace him. Do the Colts have enough faith in Danny Pinter after his struggles at right guard? He’s looked better at center, but there are still question marks there. If not, do the Colts force a pick early in the draft even with the chance they won’t have a second-round pick due to the potential trade-up with the Bears?
The Colts may be better off keeping Kelly under contract this offseason, hoping that Shane Steichen and the new offensive line coach (Roy Istvan?) can right the ship with the veteran. But he would save them a chunk of cash in 2023 if a move is made.
To tie things up nicely with a bow, here’s how those savings would add up:
Cut Matt Ryan
Restructure DeForest Buckner
Trade/Cut Kenny Moore II
Cut Nick Foles
Trade/Cut Ryan Kelly