INDIANAPOLIS -- Kelvin Hayden's new $43 million contract could finally break things open for his unsigned teammates.
With nearly a dozen more players ready to hit the free-agent market next week, new Colts head coach Jim Caldwell acknowledged Thursday that Hayden's five-year deal could have a domino effect on what happens next.
Then comes Dominic Rhodes, who led Indianapolis with six rushing touchdowns last season. After that, it could be linebackers Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho, punter Hunter Smith or defensive end Josh Thomas, all of whom have been at least part-time starters the past two seasons.
Now that the first piece is in place, the Colts can start making decisions about other players, including record-setting wide receiver Marvin Harrison.
One option to clear salary-cap space to sign the others would be releasing Harrison, who has the highest cap number of any receiver in the NFL. It's not something Caldwell wants to do.
"What I saw is a guy as quick as he's been, with the same hands, and he has the ability he's always had," Caldwell said of Harrison. "We've not seen a guy with diminishing skills."
The problem is Harrison is coming off one of the least productive seasons in his 13-year NFL career, and the Colts could save about $6 million by cutting him. Plus, the Colts have more pressing needs -- like signing Saturday and other veterans.
"My mindset is that he (Saturday) is still with us, and that's what I'm going to go by until further notice," Caldwell said Thursday during the NFL Scouting Combine. "That's the tact we're going to take."
That should be good news for Saturday, whose future with the Colts has been in question since last April, when the team drafted three centers.
Saturday has repeatedly said the Colts promised to bring him back, but team president Bill Polian made it clear last week that Hayden's situation needed to be resolved first.
With the deal done, everything else should fall in line.
The Colts' player representative, usually one of the most affable players in the locker room and a fan favorite in Indy, Saturday declined to comment about contract negotiations following an NFL Players Association meeting in Indianapolis.
Without Saturday, the Colts' offense struggled -- in part because of his absence and in part because Manning was still recovering from surgery to remove a bursa sac in his left knee.
That's one reason the Colts want Saturday back, even though others have started to write him off.
"You're beginning to act like he's already gone, and I anticipate having him back," Caldwell said. "He's a very important part of our offense."
Caldwell didn't address the other unsigned veterans, and Smith's agent said Wednesday the Colts will let his client test the free-agent market.
Polian has said he wants all of the veterans back, though it's unlikely because this is the toughest salary-cap squeeze the Colts have endured in Polian's tenure, which began in 1998.
Whatever happens, Caldwell is moving forward.
"We have to be realistic in what we're trying to do," he said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press