ESPN recently reported that the players and owners may agree on a proposal to increase the NFL salary cap to around $120 million. If this is the case, it is important to know exactly how far under the cap Indianapolis sits, as it has also been released that the tenders issued by the Colts to players who were formerly restricted free agents are no longer valid. Coltzilla just added a salary cap feature in order to help readers identify where the team stands financially.

Although Peyton Manning is currently on the books under an exclusive franchise tag, and is slated to make $23 million in 2011, Coltzilla predicts that Indianapolis will reach a permanent long-term contract with Manning shortly after the new collective bargaining agreement has been finalized. If no long-term agreement is reached, Indianapolis is set to have $14.5 million in cap space. If he does sign a new deal, the cap may increase by approximately $7-9 million — based upon the approximate $14.7 million yearly average of his 2004 deal (leaving $21.5-23.5 million in cap space).

In either case, the 2010 draft class salary was between $1.92-2.3 million against the cap for seven players (eight drafted). The 2011 draft class was smaller — only five total picks — so the cap hit will likely be lower than normal. Assuming $2-2.5 million a year for players like Antonio Johnson, Melvin Bullitt, Charlie Johnson, Clint Session, and Daniel Muir, the Colts should be able to retain all of their mid-level free agents even with Manning’s franchise tag. They would not be able to sign both Adam Vinatieri and Joseph Addai though.

If Indy does reach a long-term deal with Manning it should be capable of retaining all of its priority free agents — and may be able to sign a mid-level outside free agent or two. Releasing big contracts from players who may be replaced and who have not earned their salary level like tackle Ryan Diem’s $5.4 million, or cornerback Kelvin Hayden’s $9.1 million would allow the team to pursue a marque external free agent — or two.

Although the following 2011 cap hits are only very loose predictions for priority Colts free agents, it could help Colts fans get an idea which player could be retained on the basis of the Colts current placement against the cap.

$2.9 Joseph Addai
$2.9 Adam Vinatieri
$2.5 Charlie Johnson
$2.3 Melvin Bullitt
$2.3 Antonio Johnson
$2.2 Daniel Muir
$1.5 Eric Foster

Total: $16.6

*All numbers in millions

While the above figures are arbitrary, they should loosely represent the kind of costs associated with retaining the key free agents from the 2010 Indianapolis Colts roster. It appears possible that all of the key free agents can be retained, while a mid-level free agent or two could fit under the cap as well. It also appears that unless high salary players like Diem or Hayden are released, it unlikely that meaningful free agent acquisitions will be possible.

At the end of the day, the increased salary cap helps the Colts in that it increases the likelihood that the nucleus of the team will be able to stay together via long-term contracts for key free agents. It is not big enough to give the Colts room to be major players in the free agent frenzy that will occur within the next couple of weeks without first cutting one of the highest paid members of the team.

Please feel free to discuss what moves you think the team should make in order to prepare for the 2011 season.