The Indianapolis Colts resolving their quarterback vacancy so early into the offseason afforded them plenty of time to analyze how they want to use their remaining $50 million in cap space, which still ranks as the fourth-most of any team in the league.
However, when you consider all that needs to get done (signing foundational pieces to contract extensions and adding a marquee free agent or two) a significant portion of it could disappear shortly after the start of the new league year.
When it comes to doling out extensions, linebacker Darius Leonard comes to mind as a no-brainer candidate with just one year remaining on his rookie deal.
The two-time All-Pro has established himself as one of the best players at his position, a beacon of leadership in the locker room, and is absolutely adored by the fan base.
Taking that into account, we would all agree that Leonard deserves to be made one of the wealthiest linebackers in the league, right?
Well, in his latest piece for The Athletic, Colts insider Stephen Holder provided some insight on what sort of money the former second-round pick could end up commanding.
What would a Colts-Darius Leonard contract extension look like?
The Colts clearly have zero intention of letting Leonard reach free agency — not to mention, refusing to reward a player who’s radically outperformed his rookie contract would send an awful message to the rest of the team — so odds are they try to get this done as soon as possible.
This is basically where GM Chris Ballard makes his money. He’s fully aware that Indy is only a few more big moves away from being able to compete for a championship, but he has to find a middle ground with regards to who he could afford to sign while also meeting Leonard’s demands.
Given that Bobby Wagner is still the highest-paid linebacker despite signing his three-year, $54 million extension ($40.25 million guaranteed) two years ago, it’s reasonable to assume that Leonard could reset the market as far as average annual value is concerned. Even if he doesn’t leapfrog the Seahawks star, you have to think he’ll come close to doing so.
Whatever ends up happening, we now have two well-informed Colts insiders who are of the understanding that Leonard will have a new deal in place this offseason, as Zak Keefer of The Athletic replied to Holder’s thread with a pretty transparent take on the situation.
What does this all mean? Essentially, Colts fans should be absolutely buzzing that Leonard, the undisputed current face of the franchise, will likely end up signing a lucrative multi-year extension in the coming months.
Assuming that happens, however, they should also temper expectations for the front office when it comes to the free agent market, because if Leonard commands top-of-the-market money, that basically counts as a new signing given that his rookie contract is worth just over $7.2 million and he’s slated to make only $3.4 million this upcoming season.