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Colts flush with cap space but likely won't be big spenders in free agency

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts have nearly $86 million in salary-cap space and players who could immediately help are available.

That means the Colts will be linked to many players after the legal tampering period begins Monday, before the new league year starts and free agents can be signed. The Colts' $85.5 million in salary-cap space is second only to the Miami Dolphins' $88.5 million.

But don't get too excited when it comes to the Colts. If history and recent comments are any indication, general manager Chris Ballard doesn't plan to change his roster-building approach. The NFL new league year is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

"We are going to stay the course of how we believe in team-building," Ballard said. "Things don't always go the way you want them to go, but we have a philosophy of how we are going to build it. We want to be able to acquire young players and develop our own and develop them as Colts. I'm not saying that we won't enter into free agency because we have, but it won't be our main source of player acquisition. We will continue to build this thing the way we see fit and the way we think you can win football games."

It's not that Ballard is completely against spending money. He sets a price tag based on how he values a player and he rarely goes over that mark. Ballard went after safety Landon Collins in free agency last year before losing out on him to the Washington Redskins.

Ballard gave a slight indication during the combine last month that he might be open to adding a player who comes with a high-dollar figure because he believes the locker room is mature enough to handle it better now than in previous seasons.

"We talked a lot at the end of the season about needing more friction," he said. "Lord knows, I've had a lot of talks with our players about that. Let's just take the defense. That was almost a complete starting over from scratch, defensively, not from a player standpoint, but from a schematic standpoint. So, we knew it was going to take time. Between [Denico] Autry, [Margus] Hunt and [Justin] Houston, they were able to bridge the gap as we continued to grab and develop players. But our locker room is outstanding. They work. They are good guys and they do things the right way. So, I do think we can handle it."

If the Colts decide to pursue a quarterback, they will have to spend significant money. Philip Rivers, 38, is the quarterback who continues to be linked to the Colts. The team has spent time this offseason researching Rivers, who was coached by Colts coach Frank Reich for three seasons with the Chargers, first as quarterbacks coach and then as offensive coordinator.

Owner Jim Irsay will have his say in any decision the Colts make when it comes to quarterback. Irsay has been spoiled over the past two decades, with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck at the position for all but three seasons since 1998. Irsay and Ballard will go only as far as to say that Jacoby Brissett is the starter right now. There has been no indication that he'll be the starter in the fall.

"The quarterback position, the three of us will make [the call]," Irsay said. "We have to. It's too big of a decision. All options are on the table. I've never quite ... seen a year when this was so unusual, if you will. It's exciting. I look at as a challenge. I don't look at it as, 'Oh god, what are we gonna do?' Not at all. I see great opportunity and have strong feelings about where this football team can go this decade."

If the Colts do sign a quarterback, it'll probably be within the first couple of days of free agency. Beyond that, Ballard has never been one to hurry and sign a player. Teams sometimes overspend during the first week of free agency because there are bidding wars with other teams.

Quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Dak Prescott and Ryan Tannehill, pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, receiver Amari Cooper and tight end Austin Hooper probably will land headline-grabbing deals quickly.

Not getting in the first wave of free agency doesn't mean the Colts won't be able to find talented players. Ballard routinely has let the initial rush pass before he starts making moves. Ballard didn't sign pass-rusher Justin Houston, who led the Colts with 11 sacks last season, until the second week of free agency in 2019.

The Colts have needs at receiver, cornerback and pass-rusher, especially if they don't re-sign Jabaal Sheard.