Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard's ability to balance the salary cap afforded them the opportunity to trade for and sign All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Indianapolis has visions of a Super Bowl run this season and its efforts rely on some deep value contracts, as well as Buckner.
In a series examining some of the most affordable contracts across the league, CBS Sports breaks down the five best value contracts for each team. Here are the representatives from the Colts:
1. Darius Leonard
2020 salary cap hit: $1,976,673
Leonard will likely be looking for a contract extension after this coming season. For now, he is the best value on the team's roster. The South Carolina native was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 in addition to going to a Pro Bowl and being named to the All-Pro team.
The 24-year-old has been a leader of the defense during his two seasons. One mild area of concern is that he has missed four games during that time period. The bulk tackler has recorded 284 tackles, 12 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and seven interceptions.
Seattle's Bobby Wagner and the Jets' C.J. Mosley are the highest paid inside linebackers at $17 and $18 million respectively. Leonard will command a similar amount when the time comes.
2. Braden Smith
2020 salary cap hit: $1,961,915
Smith has been undervalued by many at times, including myself. The second round pick out of Auburn actually played right guard in college before making the transition to the edge. He has two years left on his deal, which likely means that he will be seeking a contract extension next offseason as well.
Punter Rigoberto Sanchez actually has a higher salary cap hit this season than Smith.
2020 salary cap hit: $6,605,157
Nelson is the highest paid on this list but, comparatively speaking, he is underpaid. If the New Jersey native had made it to the open market, he would likely exceed the $14 million per season average set by Brandon Brooks and Zack Martin. His 2020 salary cap hit is only the third largest along the Colts' offensive line. Nelson is a mauler in the run game and plays the game with a nasty streak. His technique is sound after being coached by Harry Hiestand at Notre Dame.
There are a few reasons why Philip Rivers felt comfortable signing in Indianapolis and the offensive line is one of them. The Colts are sound across the board, but Nelson is the cream of the crop.
2020 salary cap hit: $895,779
When Ballard arrived in the AFC South, he set out to improve the speed of the Colts' linebacker unit. It began with Leonard and expanded to Okereke. The unit is a bit undersized by traditional standards, but the linebackers are more than prepared to cover the sideline to sideline inclination of opposing offenses.
In his rookie campaign, Okereke saw his role grow as the season progressed. He accumulated 65 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and a forced fumble. The Stanford product should see an even larger workload in his second season.
5. Michael Pittman Jr.
2020 salary cap hit: $1,565,973
Pittman has not accomplished anything yet in the NFL so it is difficult to justify his inclusion on a list of the best value contracts. However, after scouting him at USC and knowing the situation that he will be thrust into in Indianapolis, I believe he'll be a staple on this list by the end of the year.
The Colts have been supremely reliant on T.Y. Hilton since he entered the league in 2012. Fans witnessed what the offense looks like when he is injured and it is not pretty. The hope is that Parris Campbell and Pittman are able to take some of the pressure off Hilton this season. If Pittman lives up to expectations then he will a great value for the team.