Despite T.Y. Hilton's Contract, Phillip Dorsett Is Still a Target in Dynasty Leagues
The date was August 13, 2015, and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton had just signed a five year contract extension with the team for $65 million dollars.
Phillip Dorsett owners collectively cursed at whichever device they just read the news on.
If you’re a Dorsett owner, let me reassure you -- it will be OK. If you’re not a Dorsett owner, then tell the Dorsett owner in your leagues that things look dismal.
Since the announcement that Hilton was signing his extension, Dorsett’s dynasty average draft position (ADP) has dropped. On drafts that began after August 1st, Dorsett’s dynasty ADP according to MyFantasyLeague.com was 123. On drafts that occurred after August 15th, his dynasty ADP has sunk to 139, a fall of 16 positions from the early 10th round to the middle of the 11th round.
For a bit of context, his dynasty ADP was all the way up at 84 (the top of the seventh round) in drafts that occurred after May 1st.
There are several reasons why people are misinterpreting this news. Let's take a look at why Dorsett is still a guy to target in dynasty leagues.
Andrew Luck's Looming Contract
First, the Colts are going to sign Andrew Luck to a contract extension come hell or high water. The contract he'll ultimately sign is likely to be the largest in NFL history, exceeding $126 million dollars, the current highest contract in the NFL, an agreement between Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. We should expect his guaranteed money to also be the highest of any player in the NFL, meaning his guaranteed cash would be over the $65 million dollars current promised to Phillip Rivers by the San Diego Chargers. It's likely the Colts will want to spread this hit over time while keeping Luck in a blue and white jersey for many years.
The average length of the top 10 quarterback contracts is 5.7 years, so rounding up, it's fair to assume Luck’s contract will be for roughly six years. The top 10 quarterback contracts are separated by an average of $3.4 million dollars, so it’s again fair to assume that Luck’s contract will clock in right around $130 million dollars over six years.
Following the same exercise with the guaranteed money, we find that the top 10 quarterback contracts are separated by an average of $2.2 million dollars in guaranteed money. Again, assuming Luck will break the bank with the Colts, then he's likely to demand roughly $67 million dollars in guaranteed money. Ultimately, the contract comes out to $130 million dollars, $67 million of which is guaranteed over six years, or about 51.6% of his contract guaranteed placing him in the same percentage guaranteed neighborhood as Aaron Rodgers (49.1% guaranteed) and Tony Romo (50.9% guaranteed).
Dorsett’s value is obviously tied to Luck staying in Indianapolis, but why am I focusing on Luck’s contract so heavily? Well, that becomes much clearer when you see what re-signing Luck does to the Colts' squad.
Causalities of the Contract
Two likely causalities point to an increased role for Dorsett, a role outside of replacing Hilton and instead complementing his role.
Those two individuals are none other than Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Both Allen and Fleener are set to become unrestricted free agents in 2016. Together, their cap hit is an affordable $3.1 million dollars this season. However, any extension or new contract would likely put one or both of these players out of reach in terms of affordability.
Since the start of their careers (excluding seasons they missed over half their games so as to not unfairly skew the results) Fleener and Allen have averaged out as the 19th and 23rd ranked tight ends, respectively, in terms of receiving yardage, a feat that is respectable but doesn't point to either player being particularity irreplaceable. By averaging the contracts of those tight ends which ranked at, or above, those positions last season and who signed a contract during this off-season, we find that Fleener could demand $6.7 million dollars per year and Allen could demand $5.8 million dollars per year.
The average length of those contracts in each of these scenarios was four years, bringing the total of a potential Fleener contract to $27 million dollars over four years and $23.2 million dollars over four years for Allen, clearly well outside the amount that Indianapolis could spend for either player considering especially considering that every dollar they commit to any player not named Luck is even less money they have to bargain with later.
The NFL salary cap is estimated to be roughly $150 million dollars per team for the 2016 season, of which Indianapolis has already committed roughly $100 million to 51 players, excluding Luck's current contract. This leaves around $50 million dollars of cap room to manage while ignoring any free agent signings and assuming the risk of an even larger pay day for Luck when his contract expires in 2017. If you factor in the estimated Luck contract above, with all contract years paid out equally, it places Indianapolis' contract commitments at roughly $128 million dollars with $22 million dollars in cap space available without accouting for any signing bonuses or additional dead cap money from canceled contracts.
This seems to heavily suggest that there is a decent likelihood that both of these tight ends are unlikely to be with Indianapolis come next season. Should this occur, a reduction in plays which feature the “12” personnel package -- essentially two tight ends on the field at once -- seems inevitable in favor of three wide receiver sets being more heavily relied upon. Imagine the Colts of the 2011-2012 season whose base set featured Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark as a template for this “new look” offense.
The Future Is the Past: A Return to the Air Coryell Offensive Scheme
The changes outlined above would point to more than just Dorsett seeing a modified role. First and foremost, this kind of change would likely necessitate a return to an Air Coryell offensive scheme.
What is Air Coryell? It's an offensive scheme that centers around speedy receivers and their ability to stretch the field, something Hilton and Dorsett would excel at. The quarterback in charge of the offense must be extremely intelligent and highly accurate. The signal-caller must be able to quickly pass the ball, have above-average mobility in order to get yardage if his passing options are covered, and a degree of grit and toughness in order to withstand the increased contact inherent with a pass-first offense.
These are all qualities usually used to describe Andrew Luck. As far as tight ends go, the scheme only requires one tight end, but that player must be able to help stretch the field as well or create physical mismatches in coverage. The running back in this style of offense must be a downhill, power rusher able to get the tough yards while having solid receiving skills as well.
The Colts appear to have already started to put their plan to modify their offensive scheme in place, as soon as this season it should become more apparent, however, some subtle hints have been dropped already. First, the drafting of Dorsett left many people assuming that he was the heir apparent to T.Y. Hilton, only to have Hilton signed to a long term extension. This left many thinking that Dorsett was simply a luxury pick, but you don’t draft luxury players in the first round, you draft players you expect to contribute heavily.
Second, with the drafting of Josh Robinson, they now possess an ideal player who fits the mold of an Air Coryell style running back extremely well. He's able to get the tough yards on the ground, but he's also an extremely dangerous weapon in the passing game. If the Colts are looking to stretch the field, then Robinson would be an excellent choice to center their rushing game around.
Third, a player almost no one is talking about was able to contribute a small, but not insignificant, amount of offense to the Colts passing attack last season. He was targeted with passes in ten of the Colts sixteen regular season games and was targeted an average of three times per game in the playoffs. Who is this mystery player? A tight end named Jack Doyle.
Doyle had as many touchdowns as Reggie Wayne last season (two), he accumulated 118 receiving yards on 18 receptions and appeared to be a player the Colts may be developing for bigger things down the road. Now, am I saying rush out and grab Doyle because he may be the next Dallas Clark? No, not by a long shot. It’s just as likely that the Colts are conceptually working with the thought of a post Allen/Fleener era and feeling out some options.
They could very well draft a new tight end next season and throw him right into the fire. However, they will need someone to help transition to that player and with a lack of available cap space following a Luck signing, Doyle seems the most likely to step into that role, if even for a little bit, and if he performs roughly as well as he did last season with limited snaps, then the Colts might feel confident enough to keep him in that role for an extended period of time.
Finally, the signing of aging veteran players such as Frank Gore and Andre Johnson serve little long-term value, but should help soften the transition in the first and, possibly, second years as they will help provide leadership and stability to the team while helping to mentor key players at their respective positions during this transition.
Is the transition to an Air Coryell offense inevitable? No, but such a transition would help explain a lot of interesting moves the Colts have been making in preparation for a likely resigning of Andrew Luck. If you're curious what this type of offense would look like, then check out the 2014 seasons of the Bills, Cardinals, Cowboys, Falcons, Lions, Rams, Saints and Vikings. Incidentally, many of these teams would be great blueprints to model such a transition, as the personnel many of those teams currently have in place closely resembles the type of offense the Colts seem to be projecting in a season or two.
Ultimately, I want to reassure Dorsett fantasy owners that, even if he doesn’t burst onto the scene this season, he's perfectly positioned to contribute in a very large way, no matter what, next season. If you're in a dynasty league then I urge you, don’t cut him halfway through the season out of frustration for a hot waiver claim. Instead, know that, when Andrew Luck signs his contract, he's also likely signing up Dorsett for highly productive fantasy seasons for many years to come.