NFL Media Reporter, Albert Breer, wrote a column on Friday for NFL.com, which outlined the 2015 transition tags numbers. The 2015 transition numbers are also the 2016 team-option numbers for the first 10 players selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
It’s a product of the recent 2011 CBA agreement for NFL rookie draft compensation:
"“All deals for draft choices are four years under the rookie wage scale. Teams have an option for a fifth year with first-round picks. The option must be exercised after the third year of the deal, with a May 3 deadline. The fifth-year salary for the top ten picks is the transition tender (average of the ten highest salaries) for a player’s position in the fourth year of his contract. -Joel Corry, Former Agent”-CBS Sportsline"
It’s a big deal for the Colts because they have two players who were selected in the Top 10 in 2012, both QB Andrew Luck and RB Trent Richardson, and are thus, eligble for the 2016 team-option (based on the 2015 transition numbers). Breer specifically notes the Colts’ unique situation commenting:
"“Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, of course, would be a no-brainer to keep at $16.12 million, as would Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechley at $11.04 million. The calls on Colts running back Trent Richardson, Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne would be just as easy going the other way.”"
According to Breer’s 2015 transition tag scale for each position, Luck’s team-option for 2016 would be $16.12MM at quarterback, while Trent Richardson would be $9.02MM at runningback. Given those figures, Luck’s option is an easy decision to pick-up, whereas Richardson’s is conversely an easy decline.
The Colts know one way or another QB Andrew Luck is eventually going to be the highest paid quarterback in NFL history. It’s not really an issue of if, but when. ESPN’s Adam Schefter commented earlier in the season that Luck could command a salary of $24-25 million annually, as he quickly approaches NFL free agency:
According to this projection, the 2016 team-option would actually save the Colts $8M or so annually for the 2016 season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the team ultimately decides to give QB Andrew Luck a mega-extension before then. A happy franchise player is a happy franchise afterall, and the Colts are going to do absolutely everything in their power to ensure that #12 remains an Indianapolis Colt for the long-term future of the franchise.
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Meanwhile, the Colts may very well look into bringing Trent Richardson back, but it certainly won’t be on a $9.02MM team-option in 2016.
Richardson gets a bad rap as a result of being the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and because the Colts surrendered their 2014 first round pick to acquire him from the Cleveland Browns, who originally drafted him. However, he’s not a bad player by any means. It’s just many people expected a star, when what they’ve gotten back so far is only a solid, yet unspectacular running back.
Richardson can’t be considered anything more than slightly above average at this juncture, and “average” running backs don’t make much in today’s NFL market. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated’s MMQB wrote a piece about the diminishing market value of the running back position over the years, specifically commenting on this past offseason’s 2014 free agent running back class:
"“Perhaps having a resoundingly average collection of free-agent backs sheds the most revealing light on the position’s true value. According to the NFL open market, an average running back is worth just over $2 million a year. That makes running back one of the least valuable positions in pro football.”"
Richardson may command a bit more than the $2MM annual projection for “average” running backs, but he’ll still be well short of warranting the $9.02 team-option, especially given the current free agent market trends for the RB position.
His prognosis for the $9.02 team-option looks even more bleak, when you consider what some of his elite running back contemporaries are earning: Matt Forte ($7.9MM), Marshawn Lynch ($7MM), and LeSean McCoy ($9.7M). Sorry, Trent. This is a no-brainer decline.
Still, it will be interesting to see how the Colts handle the 2016 team-option process-whether they’ll look to hammer out an extension with Andrew Luck before having to exercise his, and if they’ll look to bring Trent Richardson back after presumably declining his team-option. They’ll have until May 1st at the end of this season to decide the logistics of what appear to be mere formalities in each separate instance.
Oct 9, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson (34) celebrates with quarterback Andrew Luck (12) after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports