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March 10, 2012

Indianapolis puts team roster under knife

Colts cut five more players in a major move hinted at by Irsay earlier in the week

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay sounded the warning bell during Wednesday’s press conference announcing the release of 14-year quarterback Peyton Manning.

Irsay admitted at the time that Manning’s departure would probably not be the last major shakeup to the team’s aging roster. That much proved true Friday when the team parted ways with five more players — tight end Dallas Clark, middle linebacker Gary Brackett, running back Joseph Addai, safety Melvin Bullitt and backup quarterback Curtis Painter.

The reasoning? Simple. All five were salary-cap casualties. The fact that Clark, Brackett, Addai and Bullitt have all also battled injury issues over the past couple of seasons may have also entered into the team’s thought process.

Clark missed most of the 2010 season and was sidelined for several games last season. Brackett and Bullitt have both suffered season-ending shoulder injuries the last two years.

Despite the reasoning, the decision to part ways with four key members of a roster that made two trips to the Super Bowl, winning one, and playing in three AFC title games was not an easy one.

“These players all made tremendous contributions to the organization and will forever be members of the Colts family,” Irsay said in a statement released by the team Friday. “It’s always difficult to make these decisions which the nature of the salary cap requires. Their legacies with the Colts will be forever remembered by the organization, fans and Indianapolis community. We wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”

Recently hired general manager Ryan Grigson understands the ramifications of releasing fan favorites like Manning, Clark, Brackett and Addai.

“All of these players, we would love to have them here. It was not easy. It was agonizing. You know the situation that we are in roster-wise, what we are trying to do. They were cap casualties,” Grigson said during a Friday evening teleconference.

“That is the way the thing is set up. There is no easy way to do it, but it’s hard. It involves the cap and the money involved, you just can’t do certain things and the cap doesn’t allow you to. They are cap casualties in the truest since of the word.”

What is Indianapolis’ salary cap situation? The Colts’ GM wouldn’t address that.

“I am not going to get into specifics numbers-wise. I just released some really great players. I prefer to speak about players that we released today, and again I am not going to give out specific numbers, but we are definitely in a tough situation,” Grigson said, adding that the release of Clark, Addai, Brackett, Bullitt and Painter does help in that regard.

“It helps. I mean it helps. You have to make these decisions obviously to help your future. This is what this is all about, it is about the future. It is about the future of the franchise. If you do all of these things with the fans in mind and with all of our future players and our existing players … yes, it is going to help, but we are not out of the woods by any means.”

Will more players be released in the coming days and weeks? Grigson, again, deferred.

“As of right now, this is where we are at. These are the players today that we let go. That is where our focus is at. Every day is a different day here. You know we have been doing things piece mailed one day at a time, and as of right now that is where we are at with the cuts,” he said.

With these recent roster moves, are the Colts in a better position to make a play for veteran free agent players from other teams. The National Football League’s free agency period begins on Tuesday.

“We are going to try and do our best. Obviously you would love to just get out the shopping cart and go and pick, you know, all the players you would like. We are in a tough spot right now. We are going to do our best to find the best players we are capable of getting underneath the constraints we have right now fiscally,” Grigson explained.

“I wish I could [say how long the rebuilding process is going to take]. None of these things are easy. Every day has been a day that we’re chipping away and trying to move forward. I can’t give a timeline on when we’ll all of the sudden arrive. It’s a daily process and we’re all busting our tails to do our best and do right by the city and by the franchise moving forward. We’re doing our best.”

For those players still on the roster, how are they supposed to feel about all the recent roster moves?

“They are going to learn to buy in. They are going to feel when they walk in here that we are working hard to make this place great once again. It’s going to be something that we’re all going to have to be on board together and work together daily to get to where we want to go,” Grigson countered.

“We’re all going to share the same vision. The people we brought in here will share the same vision. It’s up to coach [Chuck] Pagano, which I’m confident he’ll instill that vision with the players who are here now and the players that we’ll be bringing in the future.”

Freeney leaving too? — ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Friday that the Colts might be receptive to offers from other NFL teams for the services of Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney.

Freeney will count $19 million against the salary cap and Indianapolis officials would like him to re-work his contract in an effort to help alleviate the cap burden. The Colts’ all-time sack leader, though, has reportedly refused to make any changes.

Should another team be interested in Freeney, the price will apparently be steep. Indianapolis is looking for the right trading partner who is willing to make the best deal for the 11-year veteran.

When asked about the report, Grigson opted not to respond.

“I am not going to speak on rumors. Dwight is a member of our club. I am here to talk about the players we released today,” he voiced.

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