In the no-man’s land that is the end of the NFL season for almost every team except the Super Bowl participants and the beginning of free agency, teams are often busy signing players to contract extensions, saving themselves some headaches later on and managing their cap situation. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts are in an interesting position with some players.
There’s no secret the Colts are going to give Andrew Luck a contract extension. The 2015 season was bad for him and the team, as injuries forced him to miss nine games and even in those he did play he wasn’t usually 100%. But the Colts have made the playoffs three times with Luck as their quarterback, quickly putting behind the transition season between Peyton Manning and him. The only question now is how much will they sign him for.
He will be paid $16.2 million in 2016 after the Colts signed him for the fifth-year option. But where to from here? With Luck meaning everything to the Colts, it won’t be surprising if this ends up being the richest contract in NFL history. Russell Wilson got $87.6 million for a four-year deal from the Seattle Seahawks last year in a long negotiation process, including $60 million in guaranteed money. Luck will probably surpass it, and with the Colts having nearly $19 million in cap space, they probably won’t have to backload it either.
The Steelers have a number of players up for extension, but one of their toughest decisions will be on Lawrence Timmons, coming off his ninth season with the team, in which he played 16 games (hasn’t missed a game the last six years) and picked up five sacks and one interception. He’ll be 30 in May, entering the final season of his deal which was already restructured last season, and leaves the Steelers in an interesting spot.
The cap hit on his contract in 2016 will be $15.1 million, which leaves the Steelers with three options: Extending Timmons (which they might not want to do) and backload the deal so they once again face the cap issue later down the road, ask him for a pay cut or release him, which would save them $8.75 million in cap space, but also cost them $6.3 million in dead money. The Steelers need to get creative, currently having only $4.6 million in cap space for 2016.
One team that’s probably more likely to release and not hold on are the Chicago Bears with Zach Miller. The 31-year old tight end had a very late breakout season in 2015 with 439 yards and 5 touchdown receptions, just as he hits free agency. Reports suggest he’s going to ask for $5 million a season on his next deal, something both the Bears or anyone else will find very difficult to give him. However, if the Bears do break their ties with Martellus Bennett, who has a cap hit of $6.3 million next season but cutting him could save more than $5 million in cap space without just $1 million in dead money, they might have more on the side to give Miller, with more than $50 million available for them under the salary cap.