With the defensive tackle market on the rise, it's time for the Colts to extend DeForest Buckner

Aaron Donald might have hung up the cleats this spring, but NFL teams aren't remotely done chasing the effect a player like him can bring.

In the same spring that the 32-year-old three-technique retired with 111 career sacks and a no-doubt first-ballot trip to the Hall-of-Fame, the market at the position he dominated is exploding. From Chris Jones to Christian Wilkins to Justin Madubuike to Quinnen Williams to Derrick Brown, lesser versions of the Donald effect of blowing up double teams and introducing instant pressure in the face of a quarterback are seeing monster pay-days.

The next one to cash in needs to be DeForest Buckner.

The Colts star defensive tackle is entering the final season of the four-year, $84 million deal that brought him to Indianapolis after a blockbuster trade. It's a deal that looks archaic five years later, though it does leave him with a cap hit of $22.8 million this season.

Buckner was the rare kind of outside player that general manager Chris Ballard saw as a perfect fit, worth giving up a first-round draft pick and paying a high market-rate deal to because of his dominant play as well as his ability to be an excellent leader, teammate and man in the community.

Five years later, all of those boxes still apply. An argument could be made that the Colts need them even more now than they did then.

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has produced at least seven sacks in six straight seasons.
Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has produced at least seven sacks in six straight seasons.

Indianapolis is in the second of four years with Anthony Richardson on a rookie deal, a landscape unlike when they were paying Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan at veteran rates. With the salary cap rising more than it ever had this spring, the Colts were able to promise more than $200 million in contracts to in-house players and are still left with more than $14 million available for 2024, according to That number is going to skyrocket the next couple years, when Buckner is set to be off the books and they're projected to have more than $75 million in 2025 and $143 million in 2026.

To chase the ceiling that Richardson's abilities and contract provide, they'll need to pack other superstars in under the cap and build a strong culture around him. Re-signing Buckner can help accomplish both of those Buckner just turned 30 years old, and he hasn't missed a single game to injury since his rookie year in 2016. Despite seeing more double teams than anyone on the interior not named Donald, Buckner has become the most consistent producer, with at least seven sacks in the past six seasons.

The only other players who have done that in the league are Myles Garrett and Jones. Jones was just rewarded with a five-year, $158.7 million extension after helping the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

The Colts haven't gotten to see the Buckner effect in the postseason because they haven't had the quarterback stability to get there, but the hope is that now they do. They traded for him because of it, as the last game he played for the 49ers was in Super Bowl 54, when he had 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits on Patrick Mahomes.

The way they've currently built their defense speaks to how much they are counting on Buckner. They have one of the youngest secondaries in the league, and it demands pressure in the face of a quarterback. They have high-floor defensive ends who can win in 1-on-1 matchups but who also require them, and that's what Buckner's swallowing of double teams can help provide. He also helps by playing occasionally on the edge.

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is heading into the final year of his four-year contract.
Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is heading into the final year of his four-year contract.

Of course, contracts are about the future, and projecting an interior lineman into his 30s isn't the easiest. Buckner is at least a year older than all of the defensive tackles who cashed in this spring, and he has fought through nagging hip and back injuries that come with 17 games and constant double teams. The Colts have to find a way to decrease his snap count, which is exactly what they were going for when they spent $7 million in average annual value to his backup in Raekwon Davis this spring.

Buckner shouldn't command the $31.8 million average salary ceiling Jones did when he had all the leverage fresh off another Super Bowl victory. He shouldn't cost the $27.5 million that Wilkins just landed from the Raiders in a desperate open market for the position. That's the advantage the Colts could have in extending Buckner this spring, as they could trade some annual value for the security he wants after opting to stay here following the disastrous 2022 season.

Buckner is more disruptive than Brown is, and Brown just inked $24 million from a desperate Panthers franchise. He's on par with Williams, who is also making $24 million annually but is four years younger. Something slightly below that but high in early guarantees feels like a reasonable compromise.

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By extending Buckner this spring, the Colts could lower his $22.8 million cap hit to create more 2024 cap space if they wanted to, though that has not been a practice they have used under owner Jim Irsay.

To get the best value out of the deal, they'll need to chase a higher-ceiling edge rusher than they currently have and bolster a secondary that couldn't cover late last season when teams negated Buckner and the rest of the rush some with max protection. Like almost all players, he alone doesn't solve the puzzle on defense. But he does provide visions of a floor and a ceiling, like Jones and Donald have and like teams keep praying these other investments will.

In a spring that has been all about running back last year's team and dropping the Richardson-Jonathan Taylor backfield into it, Buckner should be the next contract on the agenda. He'll be expensive, as he should be. But if they plan correctly around him, it's going to be hard for it not to be a good investment.

Contact Nate Atkins at Follow him on Twitter @NateAtkins_.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: It's time for the Colts to extend DeForest Buckner