Colts Rumors

Colts, Darius Leonard Nearing Deal

Darius Leonard and the Colts are on the verge of a new deal (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Once completed, it’s expected to be a four-year extension worth upwards of $19MM per year.

You know what you’ve done, and you know what you deserve,” Leonard said earlier this year, an indication that he wouldn’t be giving Indy much of a hometown discount. “Hopefully, they see as much value as I see.

On Wednesday, the 49ers locked up All-Pro Fred Warner with a five-year, $95MM extension. That deal made him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll hold that mantle for long. Even though Leonard’s deal will be slightly shorter, his AAV is expected to trump Warner’s $19MM/year. Meanwhile, Seahawks star Bobby Wagner — making $18MM annually — will drop to No. 3 on the ILB earnings list.

Taken with the No. 36 overall pick in 2018, Leonard was an instant difference maker for the Colts. He’s proven to be a great second-round value, though his slot did not provide Indy with a fifth-year option. As a result, he’s currently on course for free agency in the spring of 2022.

Leonard, 26 in July, made an All-Pro team in each of his first three seasons. That includes his first year when he also captured the Defensive Rookie of the Year trophy.

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2021 Cap Space For All 32 NFL Teams

There are still plenty of quality free agents left on the board as we look ahead to training camp. Cornerback Steven Nelson, tackle Russell Okung, and longtime Legion of Boom leader Richard Sherman headline the list, along with accomplished edge rushers like Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, and Olivier Vernon. That list will only grow larger, of course, as more teams shed veterans to redirect their funds elsewhere.

With that in mind, here’s a look at every NFL team’s cap situation, starting with the league-leading Jaguars:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars — $32.7MM
  2. Denver Broncos — $28.9MM
  3. New York Jets — $28.5MM
  4. Cleveland Browns — $20.6MM
  5. Los Angeles Chargers — $19.9MM
  6. Detroit Lions — $17.9MM
  7. San Francisco 49ers — $17.8MM
  8. Cincinnati Bengals — $17.4MM
  9. Washington Football Team — $16.7MM
  10. Indianapolis Colts— $14.3MM
  11. Carolina Panthers— $14.3MM
  12. Minnesota Vikings — $13.5MM
  13. Pittsburgh Steelers — $13.1MM
  14. New England Patriots — $13.1MM
  15. New Orleans Saints — $11.4MM
  16. Arizona Cardinals — $11.3MM
  17. Buffalo Bills — $10.5MM
  18. Baltimore Ravens — $8.8MM
  19. Atlanta Falcons — $8.6MM
  20. Seattle Seahawks — $8.3MM
  21. Tennessee Titans — $8.3MM
  22. Kansas City Chiefs — $7.9MM
  23. Los Angeles Rams — $7MM
  24. Chicago Bears — $6MM
  25. Dallas Cowboys — $6MM
  26. Miami Dolphins — $5.3MM
  27. Green Bay Packers — $5MM
  28. Houston Texans — $5MM
  29. Las Vegas Raiders — $3.3MM
  30. Philadelphia Eagles — $3.2MM
  31. New York Giants — $2.4MM
  32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — $489K

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chris Ballard On Colts’ Free Agency Blueprint, Wide Receiver Situation

The Colts’ wide receiver outlook has received some attention this offseason. Although the team re-signed longtime starter T.Y. Hilton, questions about this crew’s capabilities remain as yet another new starting quarterback arrives.

Indianapolis did not change up its receiver depth chart much this offseason. Hilton, former second-round picks Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell and ex-UDFA Zach Pascal remain the likely top four among this group. The Colts did not draft a wideout until Round 7, and that pick became a Division III product (Mike Strachan). Ballard admitted this corps may lack a true No. 1 target, but the Colts remain confident in their aerial producers.

They’re a talented group,” Ballard said during an appearance on The Athletic Football Show with Robert Mays (via the Indianapolis Star). “Is there a guy that, you know, you just line up and go, ‘Holy crap man, how are we gonna stop this guy?’ Maybe not, but they are really damn good players, and T.Y. Hilton can still play. He can still play.”

Pittman, the 34th overall pick in 2020, enjoyed quality moments in a rookie season that included 40 receptions for 503 yards. Pascal has been needed to work as a starter due to Hilton and Campbell’s injuries, but the Colts kept the Old Dominion alum via second-round RFA tender in March. Hilton, 31, missed six games in 2019 and has averaged 50.1 and 50.8 yards per game in the past two seasons — the lowest figures of his career.

Campbell represents a wild card here. Various maladies have thrown the Ohio State product’s career off course. He missed 14 games last season because of a knee injury. That followed a rookie season in which the slot player suffered a broken hand, a broken foot and dealt with a sports hernia. He is back to 100% now but certainly has a lot to prove after missing 23 games over his first two seasons.

I’m betting on Michael Pittman, who I think’s got a chance to be really good,” Ballard said. “Everybody just ignores Zach Pascal, but all he’s done is catch touchdowns over the last two years. And then getting Parris Campbell back is a big bonus and he’s looked great during the offseason. We think we’re a little better than other people do.”

Although the Colts wooed Hilton back despite the Ravens’ interest, their offer (one year, $8MM) came in under Baltimore’s. This has been a refrain under Ballard, who has not been especially aggressive in free agency during his five offseasons as Colts GM. The Colts have consistently operated with the most or close to the most salary cap space under Ballard but have not outbid other teams for marquee free agents. Though, the team did make impact trades over the past two years — for DeForest Buckner and Carson Wentz — that reshaped its outlook.

We’ve got good players out of free agency, and we’ve been successful,” Ballard said. “We’re just not the biggest fans of right out the gate free agency where you’re paying B players A-plus money, which is gonna affect down the line. … There’s a cost to that.”

Chunks of the cap space the Colts have hoarded by skipping — the Philip Rivers signing notwithstanding — the free agency first waves in recent years will likely go toward extensions for draft picks. The Colts are negotiating with right tackle Braden Smith and plan to extend All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard. Quenton Nelson is signed through 2022, but the former No. 6 overall pick is 3-for-3 in first-team All-Pro appearances. He will be in line to raise the guard salary ceiling — likely next year.

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Finding A Zach Ertz Destination

Months after Zach Ertz‘s name popped up in trade rumors, he remains with the Eagles. The three-time Pro Bowl tight end is not viewed as likely to be part of this year’s Philly team and did not report for the team’s offseason program. Despite a lengthy delay in this saga, a separation still feels imminent.

Ertz has one season left on the five-year, $42.5MM extension he signed way back in January 2016. The veteran lobbied for a new deal last year, but he and the Eagles could not agree on terms. Those disagreements became rather noticeable as well. Even if some suitors cannot presently afford Ertz’s $12.7MM cap number, which could cause the Eagles to finally release him, the team will likely try to work a trade for a bit longer.

Where will the 30-year-old pass catcher be come Week 1? Here are a few candidates:

Arizona Cardinals

This franchise has not shown a strong interest in bolstering this position in many years, and Kliff Kingsbury — with A.J. Green and Rondale Moore joining DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk — may well opt to deploy more four-receiver sets. That said, the Cardinals’ additions of Green, J.J. Watt, Rodney Hudson, Brian Winters and Malcolm Butler illustrate a commitment to adding veterans to help the cause in a loaded NFC West. The Cards, who have Maxx Williams (304 yards in two Arizona seasons) as their top tight end, have not had a tight end surpass 600 yards in a season since moving to Arizona in 1988.

Buffalo Bills

The team most closely connected to Ertz this offseason, Buffalo has not received much from the tight end position in recent years. And the defending AFC East champions have lacked a higher-end receiving threat at this spot for much of its existence. Five Ertz receiving totals would eclipse the best tight end showing (726 yards) in the Bills’ 61-season history. While the Bills’ Stefon DiggsEmmanuel SandersCole BeasleyGabriel Davis quartet leaves it well-stocked for aerial targets at present, the tight end position has come up as one the franchise would not mind bolstering.

Dawson Knox led Buffalo tight ends with 288 yards last season; the team lost Tyler Kroft in free agency and has second-year player Tommy Sweeney coming off a season in which he encountered severe COVID-19 issues. With the Bills in position to aim for a Super Bowl berth again, another weapon makes sense.

Indianapolis Colts

With Doug Pederson out of the NFL at the moment, the Colts serve as the reunion spot for Ertz. Carson Wentz played with Ertz for five seasons and helped him set a tight end record with 116 catches in 2018. Frank Reich coached Ertz the previous two years, and the Colts could certainly use another viable weapon — even if they figure to lean heavily on the run game.

Indianapolis re-signed T.Y. Hilton and has 2020 second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. coming off a promising finish to his rookie season, but the team has not been able to keep injury-prone ex-second-rounder Parris Campbell on the field. Ninth-year tight end Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox combined for just 645 yards last season. The Wentz trade, assuming he stays healthy for most of this season, will cost Indianapolis a first-round pick in 2022. Bringing in his former top target at a low cost would enhance the relocated QB’s comfort level and help justify the lofty investment.

Jacksonville Jaguars

This spot differs from the rest mentioned here, with the Jaguars coming off a 1-15 season and in clear rebuild mode. But Jacksonville drafted Trevor Lawrence and has no proven tight end to pair with him. The team leads the NFL in cap space ($38MM) as well.

Exiting draft weekend, Urban Meyer expressed concern about his team’s tight end depth chart. The Jags drafted Ohio State’s Luke Farrell in Round 5 and did go on to sign Tim Tebow. While this would seemingly not be a desirable spot for Ertz as a free agent, the Jags could make sense as an unorthodox trade destination.

Tennessee Titans

Ertz trade compensation would not approach what the Titans paid for Julio Jones, and even after acquiring the all-time Falcons great, the team was on the lookout for tight end assistance. The Titans lost Jonnu Smith and did not add a notable replacement. The Jones trade shows the Titans are committed to contending this season, even after losing Smith and Corey Davis. Even after a disappointing 2020 season, Ertz would provide a substantial upgrade over Anthony Firkser.

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Colts, RT Braden Smith Discussing Extension

Jim Irsay said on draft weekend he expected the Colts to extend Darius Leonard and Braden Smith, two second-round picks from the 2018 draft. The Colts have gotten to work on one of those contracts.

Smith’s agent has entered talks with the Colts on a long-term deal, Stephen Holder of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The fourth-year right tackle is going into a contract year and is set to make $2.43MM. His salaries will likely be much higher in the future.

The right tackle market moved Wednesday morning, with Ryan Ramczyk‘s Saints extension giving the NFL a new benchmark for the oft-overlooked position. Ramczyk is now tied to a $19.2MM-per-year deal, which tops Lane Johnson‘s AAV figure ($18MM). No other right tackle earns more than $14MM annually, but the Panthers may factor into this equation soon. They have just more than two weeks to extend franchise-tagged right tackle Taylor Moton.

A right guard at Auburn, Smith transitioned to right tackle as a Colts rookie. The former No. 37 overall pick has emerged as one of the league’s top young tackles and has helped the Colts form a top-tier offensive line. Pro Football Focus has graded Smith (43 career starts) as a top-20 tackle in each of the past two seasons.

While Smith likely will not top Ramczyk’s price, he stands to be an eight-figure-per-year player on an Indianapolis O-line that should have three of those in the not-too-distant future. The Colts already have Ryan Kelly tied to high-end center money ($12.4MM on average), and they should be expected to make Quenton Nelson the NFL’s highest-paid guard. It is difficult to do more to state a case for such a contract; Nelson is 3-for-3 in first-team All-Pro appearances and has not missed a game. But the Colts have the 2018 first-round pick signed through 2022, via the fifth-year option. Because Smith was drafted a round later, he will likely beat his higher-profile line mate to a big-ticket extension.

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FA Golden Tate Eyeing Titans, Colts, Rams

Golden Tate remains unsigned, but it sounds like the veteran receiver has his eye on a few teams. During an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio, the free agent wideout provided a list of three potential suitors that each offer a bit of familiarity.

“I would love to go back home to Tennessee,” Tate said (Twitter link). “Indy, over with Carson Wentz. Obviously, the LA Rams would be fantastic with Stafford.”

As Tate noted, he grew up in Tennessee, where he starred as a three-sport athlete (football, baseball, track and field). Of course, the Titans already pulled off a big acquisition at the position when they traded for Julio Jones, but there’s a chance they could be looking for more depth at receiver.

Tate’s best seasons came in Detroit, where he served as one of Matthew Stafford‘s favorite targets and collected three 1,000-plus-yard campaigns. Stafford now finds himself in Los Angeles, and the Rams already signed one veteran this offseason in DeSean Jackson, adding him to a crowded depth chart that is highlighted by Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and 2020 second-round pick Van Jefferson.

Perhaps Tate’s best chance at playing time would be with the Colts, where he’d be reunited with former Eagles teammate Carson Wentz. The duo only saw time in five games together during their stints in Philly, but Indianapolis could provide an opportunity for them to team up again. Tate would have a chance to unseat the likes of JJ Nelson and/or Dezmon Patmon for one of the final receiver spots on the roster.

The 32-year-old has seen time in 23 games for the Giants over the past two seasons, collecting 84 receptions for 1,064 yards and eight touchdowns.

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Colts Move Marvell Tell To Corner

  • Marvell Tell opted out of the 2020 season, but the former fifth-round pick is back at work with the Colts. Tell has joined the run of secondary position changes this offseason; the Colts have moved him from safety to corner, Stephen Holder of The Athletic writes. As a safety in 2019, Tell played 252 snaps and started one game. The Colts have crowded their cornerback contingent this offseason, re-signing both Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie. Both veterans are on one-year contracts. Tell’s rookie deal tolled from the COVID-19 opt-out; he is under contract through 2023.

Details On Fisher's Colts Deal

He started a game for the Browns as a rookie in 2016, and then started another for the Colts in 2017. All told, he spent at least a bit of time with nine different teams. He was signed by the Browns back in January right as their season was about to end, and didn’t appear in a game. Given his Ivy League education, it’s not too surprising he had an easy time transitioning to the front office.

  • It was initially reported that Eric Fisher‘s one-year deal with the Colts would pay him $9.4MM in 2021, but it turns out it’s a bit less than that. Fisher’s 2021 compensation will actually be $8.38MM, veteran NFL reporter Aaron Wilson tweets. It’s only $6MM guaranteed. It includes a $4MM signing bonus, a $2MM guaranteed salary, and then $2.38MM in per game active roster bonuses. Wilson also notes that it’s technically a two-year pact with 2022 automatically voiding for cap purposes.

NFL Suspends Jared Veldheer

Free agent Jared Veldheer has been hit with a six-game ban (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). The reason for the suspension is not immediately clear, but it will likely hurt the tackle’s chances of finding a deal this summer. 

Veldheer, a 2010 third-round pick out of Hillsdale, has put together a 12-year career, appearing in 121 career regular season games. He joined the Colts in late December, and he ended up playing 100-percent of his team’s offensive snaps in Week 17 and the Wild Card Round. After that, he hooked on with the Packers, making him the first player in NFL history to play at least one postseason game for two different teams in the same year. It was all thanks the loophole provided by last season’s COVID-19 practice-squad rules.

It’s worth noting that Veldheer will turn 34 in June, so it’s not clear whether he’s planning on playing this year.

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Adam Vinatieri To Retire From NFL

3:36pm: The NFL’s all-time scoring leader confirmed he will hang up his cleats. Vinatieri acknowledged during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show (video link) he will not attempt to play a 25th season. An official announcement should follow soon, and the longtime Patriots and Colts kicker should be expected to land in Canton at some point.

9:28am: Ideally, Adam Vinatieri would like to play through his 49th birthday in December. But, at this stage, the longtime NFL kicker doesn’t see it happening.

I haven’t officially retired, but I’m probably on that way,” Vinatieri said in a recent interview with Morten Andersen (via the Indy Star). “Like I said, I’m continuing to do stuff to try and get there. It’s just not … there might be a time to officially do that here in the near future.”

Vinatieri’s contract with the Colts expired at the end of the 2019 season, making him an unrestricted free agent. The veteran planned on returning to the field in 2020, but quarantine life hampered the rehabilitation of his surgically-repaired knee. Meanwhile, the Colts moved on to undrafted rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.

On the whole, Vinatieri’s career has been legendary. Over the course of 24 seasons, he captured four Super Bowl rings, three First Team All-Pro nods, and countless clutch kicks. His late-year injury resulted in his first missed game since Super Bowl XLIV. And, with the Colts, he had perfect attendance dating back to 2010.

With that said, Vinatieri did show some signs of slowing down in 2019. He made just 17 of his 25 field goal tries and 22 of his 28 extra points. The Colts had issues beyond the special teams unit, of course, but those misses did not help matters as they dropped out of playoff contention.

When you get to be our age, and you’ve kicked as many balls as we have, things start to wear out a little bit,” Vinatieri said. “Unfortunately, it was a little bit more than we were hoping. We knew we had some stuff in (the knee) that needed to be fixed. But when our surgeon went in there, he said, ‘I’m not giving you the 40,000-mile overhaul; it looked like we gave you the 80,000-mile overhaul.’”

If Vinatieri returns for another NFL season, it’ll be a historic feat. Currently, quarterback/kicker George Blanda holds the league’s all-time record on that front having played at the age of 48 in the 1975 season.

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