Why The T.Y. Hilton Contract Is A Steal For The Indianapolis Colts
Jim Irsay has certainly been busy.
On Aug. 13, the Indianapolis Colts extended wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to a five-year, $65 million deal with $39 million in guaranteed money. The deal keeps Hilton with the team until 2020 and makes Hilton the fourth-highest paid wide receiver behind Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas.
Signing was a smart move for Hilton because it provides him with financial security that is relatively unheard of in today's NFL. The deal is even better for the Colts because they were able to lock down a top-ten deep pass catcher while avoiding messy negotiations next year during free agency. The move also shows Andrew Luck that the team is dedicated to building around him for the foreseeable future. When reviewing the deal, it is imperative to understand why it was offered at a high price and what it means for the rest of the team. Let's break down T.Y. Hilton's new contract.
The first and most important area that needs to be analyzed is Hilton's performance on the field since being drafted by the Colts in the third round of the 2012 draft, the same draft that secured franchise quarterback Luck and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. When looking over his stats, Hilton appears to be a solid, top-15 receiver over the last few years, but not one deserving of a top-five contract.
Hilton caught 162 passes in the last two seasons, accumulating 2,428 yards and 12 touchdowns over that time span. His stature at 5'9" and 178 pounds does not exactly help strike fear into opposing cornerbacks.
However, Hilton made significant improvement last year, garnering 1,345 yards and 16.4 yards per catch, both good for sixth-best in the league. The former Florida International Panther also appears to be elite in one critical category: the deep passing game. Hilton caught all 14 deep passes that were thrown his way in 2014 for 528 yards and five touchdowns, all top-five numbers according to Pro Football Focus. Since 2013, Hilton has caught 17 passes of 40 yards or more, only behind DeSean Jackson (23) and A.J. Green (19). That's five more than the rest of the Colts receivers combined in that time frame. He is also efficient with his catches; it is important to note that when looking at Hilton's efficiency, he ranked in the top ten in yards per route in 2014 per Pro Football Focus.
Hilton's ability to successfully snag the deep ball is part of the reason why this deal is a great move for the Colts. With a quarterback that is such a frequent and successful deep passer as Luck, who threw for a league-high 88 passes last year, the Colts realized they needed to secure the other end of the connection in order to sustain the success between the duo. Locking Hilton down now bodes well for Luck in the coming years, just as both should be hitting their primes.
Locking up Hilton now may seem a bit premature given that he has only produced two years of noteworthy production. However, the Colts have ensured that they have one of Luck's favorite targets secured before going into free agency next year. Julio Jones and A.J. Green headline next year's free agent class, and both will be looking to secure contracts that will most likely exceed Hilton's. Green has managed to put up over 1,000 yards in every season he's been in the league while Jones led the NFL in catches of 20+ yards and caught 104 balls for 1,593 yards, good for third in the league last year.
If Hilton was allowed to hit free agency next year, he would most likely wait until Jones and Green signed their contracts, then use their deals as examples of what he expects to receive. Hilton would have more leverage during the process than he did this year because he would have two recent contracts to compare against what the Colts were offering him. This is a tactic often used during free agency to ensure players receive fai r contracts according to the market. An example of this can be seen with Thomas's and Dez Bryant's contracts this year.
By signing Hilton now, the Colts have managed to strike a precise balance between securing talent at the receiver position while not overpaying for it; Hilton's cap hit will only be $1.7 million next year. The Colts save money by not allowing him to hit free agency and garner interest from talent hungry teams, ensuring Colts fans will still be able to see a duo not unlike that of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
The Rest of the Team
The primary reason for the Colts' success these last three years is the exemplary draft they had in 2012, where the franchise selected offensive cornerstones such as Luck, Fleener, Allen and Hilton. But 2015 will be a contract year for Fleener and Allen along with left tackle Anthony Castanzo. What does investing approximately 8% of their cap space towards Hilton mean for the rest of the team?
Ultimately, it means that the Colts will most likely have to let go of either Allen or Fleener. The team would be hard pressed to let go of Castanzo after he led the league in snaps started with 1,400 and has proven he can protect Luck's blindside. Finding a left tackle of starter quality is hard enough in this league, let alone a stellar one. Both Fleener and Allen present upside as young recievers, but each struggles with his own flaws. Fleener has a history of inconsistency and inefficiency while Allen has missed 20 games over the past 2 years, including playoffs.
Finally, there is the heart of the franchise itself. At only 25, Luck has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the league and will be looking to be paid like one. In fact, many expect for Luck to become the highest paid quarterback in the league once negotiations are concluded. Comparing him to fellow 2012 draftmate Russell Wilson, who is currently the second highest paid quarterback in the league, Luck presents more value to the team simply based on how he has managed to turn this team around since 2012. The center of the offense will soon get his due, and signing Hilton to a long term contract shows the team is dedicated to arming Luck with enough weapons to maintain its status as contenders for years to come.
The T.Y. Hilton contract may seem at first glance to be an over-investment in a position that seems to be full of budding stars on the young team. However, when understanding the emphasis the Colts place on deep passing and the fact that the rest of the market will not be any cheaper, this contract seems like the sort of deal everyone will walk away from the table feeling happy about.