INDIANAPOLIS – The agreement between the NFL and players’ union dealt with the necessary measures that allowed training camps to open on time.
That essentially addressed a short-term that had been shrouded in uncertainty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not exactly business as usual, but it’s business nonetheless.
“A new normal,’’ said Frank Reich Wednesday as he headed into his third training camp with the Indianapolis Colts.
But the league and NFLPA resolution also addressed long-term financial issues that undoubtedly will be impacted by limited-capacity or zero attendance at games this season.
Without wading too deep in the weeds, the anticipated revenue shortfall will result in a reduction of a salary cap that has routinely increased. This year’s base cap, excluding player benefits, is at $198.2 million. That normally would lead to the 2021 cap bouncing to more than $210 million.
But that was pre-COVID-19.
The NFL and union addressed the unique situation by setting the 2021 salary cap at a minimum of $175 million and spreading the additional shortfall over the next three seasons.
Chris Ballard was paying close attention to the negotiations and resolution. He’s got a roster to build. More to the point, he’s facing an upcoming offseason that will require serious decisions on several front-line players.
“Yeah, we needed some clarity on where we were going,’’ he said. “Now, we have a little more clarity and we’re currently working on a plan of how we want to move forward.
“You want to try to lockup your own players early and get them locked up, but with so much uncertainty out there, we didn’t know what the next two or three years were going to look like. You have to project out here when you’re building your roster and extending players. Now that we have a little more clarity, we’ll have some lines in the water and see what happens.’’
Ballard gave no hints as to what might happen with whom, or when.
However, once again he’ll have ample opportunity – that means cap space and an owner willing to spend – to retain several of his front-line players who’ll be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
According to Overthecap.com, the Colts are $22.5 million under the 2020 cap. Looking at ’21 and using the minimum projection of $175 million, they’ll have a league-high $73 million in cap space.
As Ballard mentioned, he’s not averse to offering extensions at any time to deserving players. Tight end Jack Doyle signed a three-year, $21.3 million extension in December. During the summer of 2019, extensions were given to cornerback Kenny Moore II (four years, $30 million), punter Rigoberto Sanchez (four years, $11.6 million) and long-snapper Luke Rhodes (four years, $5.57 million).
We’d love to be privy to the internal discussions of which Colts are atop Ballard’s “To do’’ list.
The free-agents-to-be include quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett, wideouts T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal, center Ryan Kelly, defensive end Justin Houston, running back Marlon Mack, linebacker Anthony Walker, defensive lineman Denico Autry and safety Malik Hooker.
Along with Rivers, a handful of offseason free agents relocated to Indy with one-year deals: defensive tackle Sheldon Day, cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie, tight end Trey Burton, fullback Rosie Nix.
Clearly, Ballard’s plate is full.
If the Colts were correct in their assessment of Rivers, he’ll likely be re-signed at the end of the season.
“I’m very optimistic it’ll be a multi-year thing,’’ Reich said.
Also, Rivers isn’t quite ready to assume his head coaching duties at St. Andrews High School in Fairhope, Ala.
“I take it one year at a time,’’ he said after signing his one-year, $25 million deal. “That’s the best way to do it at 38. If I feel like I feel right now next year, then I’ll be excited to keep playing.
“I’m not going to get carried away. I don’t think you’ll see me in the Tom Brady range.’’
A new deal for Rivers likely would be in the $25-30 million neighborhood.
Kelly said his agent had had at least preliminary discussions with Ballard before the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to his the pause button, and insisted “I’d like to play my entire career in Indianapolis.’’
“I want to be a Colt for life, but it takes two sides,’’ he said. “It is up to Mr. Irsay and Chris to get the job done. So for me, I want to be a Colt. So you heard it from me.’’
Hilton added his next contract, whatever its duration, will be his last.
Kelly, 27 and coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance as an alternate, is the brains behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. Hilton, who turns 31 in November, remains the focal point of Reich’s passing game.
Our pecking order for extensions: Rivers (after the season), Kelly (soon) and Hilton (now or after he proves he’s regained his Pro Bowl form).
We’d seriously consider re-upping Houston at the end of the year if he’s able to generate another double-digit sack season. He’ll be 32, but viable pass rushers are hard to find.
The most difficult decisions might be Mack and Walker.
The Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor in the second round for a reason, and it’s not to labor behind Mack. Of course, it’s worth pointing out Mack has gotten better every year – a career-best 1,091 yards last season – and turned 24 in March.
Walker is the blue-collar member of one of the NFL’s rising linebacker units. But the coaching staff is enamored with the potential of Bobby Okereke, a 2019 third-round pick.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.