Keeping core together is big reason for Colts’ free agency frugality

If Eric Ebron follows up his Pro Bowl season with another productive one, he’ll be in line for a lucrative new contract. 

INDIANAPOLIS — The first, second and even third waves of NFL free agency have come and gone. There will continue to be signings in the coming days. But none will likely bring big headlines.

The lack of movement by the Indianapolis Colts isn’t a surprise. Their major outside signings were receiver Devin Funchess and defensive end Justin Houston. They still have $58.2 million in salary-cap space.

One of the reasons for the Colts’ frugality — which general manager Chris Ballard said was a priority two months ago — is that some of their core players are coming to the end of their contracts, which means the Colts will have to spend to be able to retain them.

That’s also why they aren’t currently worried about having to spend money to reach the 89 percent cash-spending floor. That’s the percentage of money set forth by the league’s collective bargaining agreement, a total that teams are required to spend every four years.

“It’s a little bit down the road, but I’ll say that is something we want to be able to do,” Ballard added last month during the NFL owners meetings, about re-signing core players. “We want to be able to extend our own and go to them early, especially the guys who are performing and are doing everything right. Being able to take care of those guys early … it’s got to make sense for both sides. When we get after the draft and we start getting into May, June, July and August, those are things we will start taking a look into.”

Ballard showed his desire to retain the Colts’ own players when they signed kicker Adam Vinatieri and offensive lineman Mark Glowinski to new deals.

Here are other notable Colts in line for new deals no later than the 2020 offseason:

TE Eric Ebron: The Colts signed Ebron to a bargain deal of two years and up to $15 million in 2018. Ebron, who was considered an underachiever during his first four NFL seasons in Detroit, revived his career in 2018 with career-highs in receptions (66), targets (110), yards (750) and touchdowns (14) while making his first Pro Bowl.

Ebron will be in line to land a lucrative contract if he’s able to come anywhere close to those numbers — or even exceed those numbers — in 2019.

Ebron, who turned 26 on Wednesday, isn’t just a fit in coach Frank Reich’s offensive system. His professionalism and outgoing personality make him an excellent fit inside what is a very tight locker room.

TE Jack Doyle: He’s never been a flashy player. He’s a blue-collar blocker who also happens to have been quarterback Andrew Luck‘s second-most dependable receiving target since Doyle arrived in Indianapolis in 2013 (behind T.Y. Hilton).

Doyle, 28, wasn’t able to show much last season because he was limited to a career-low six games due to hip and kidney injuries. He’s expected to be out until training camp in late July.

Doyle’s versatility should make him a fixture going forward as long as he can shake off his injury-filled 2018 season.

LT Anthony Castonzo: Castonzo is the second-longest tenured Colt on the roster behind Vinatieri. A 2011 first-round draft pick, Castonzo has been responsible for protecting the quarterback’s blind side throughout his career.

He isn’t talked about as one of the best left tackles in the league, but he’s been solid. His age (he turns 31 in August) could be a consideration.

C Ryan Kelly: The Colts have until May to pick up the fifth-year contract option on Kelly, a first-round pick in 2016. Ballard could sign Kelly to a long-term extension before the start of the 2020 season.

Kelly is a fixture in the Colts organization. He’s likely headed to some Pro Bowls if he can find a way to stay healthy. Kelly has missed 13 games in the past two seasons because of injuries.

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