NFL Free Agency: Colts can’t and won’t let Michael Pittman Jr hit the open market

Michael Pittman Jr faces a big week ahead of NFL free agency.

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

Will Michel Pittman Jr remain with the Indianapolis Colts or will he earn big money elsewhere? 

With NFL free agency fast approaching, the Colts are facing a big decision when it comes to their top receiver.  If they can’t agree on a contract extension before the NFL’s franchise tag deadline, the Colts could decide to use the non-exclusive franchise tag that would cost them $21,816 for the 2024 season or let Pittman Jr hit the open market.

Since the salary cap has increased to $255.4 million, the franchise tag is more appealing to a Colts team that is amongst the leaders in cap space.  That number will allow them to place the tag on Pittman Jr if it will lead to a long-term deal, which both sides will want.

NFL Free Agency: Colts will do everything possible to keep Michael Pittman Jr in Indy

As one of the top free agent wide receivers possibly hitting free agency, Pittman Jr does hold the leverage if the Colts feel he’s worth the money of retaining him.  With the increase in salary cap and how Colts general manager Chris Ballard views the talented receiver as a cornerstone piece for the franchise, there is a good bet Pittman Jr doesn’t leave Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard says Michael Pittman Jr is a cornerstone player
Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

“The (receiver) market is what the market is,’’ Ballard said in early January. “You have to have gas in your car and if it’s $4 a gallon, it’s $4 a gallon. It is what it is.

“It’s kind of like the quarterback. When you have one, the price tag is up toward $40-50 million now. The market is what the market is. You’ve got to have wideouts.’’

Those words seem to indicate Ballard will do whatever it takes to keep his top receiver who led the team with 109 receptions for 1,152 yards and 4 touchdowns mostly catching the ball from Gardner Minchew, who is also a pending free agent.  So basically, its tag or let Pittman Jr hit the open market if they can’t work out a long-term deal.  While the bet is on a tag, let’s explore the options out there if Pittman Jr. does hit free agency. 

ESPN says the best fit for Michael Pittman Jr is this team

In listing the best free-agent fits for the top-50 players, ESPN’s Matt Bowen is also leaning towards contract extension or franchise tag for Pittman as he sees the Colts as the best fit for the versatile receiver.

In his article, Bowen wrote (via Colts wire):

“Regardless of whether it’s an extension or the franchise tag, if I were the Colts, I wouldn’t let the talented receiver walk Pittman has both the production and the great fit in Shane Steichen’s offense. In 2023, he posted a career-high 1,152 receiving yards, with 44.5 percent of those yards coming after the catch. And with a healthy Anthony Richardson back under center, the Colts have to retain their top target; Pittman can win at all three levels of the field.”

With the Cincinnati Bengals expected to place the franchise tag on Tee Higgins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers working on keeping Mike Evans, Pittman could end up the top free agent wide receiver if the Colts let him get there.  A team like the Chicago Bears could be appealing whether they keep Justin Fields are draft a top-talent quarterback like Caleb Williams.  He would be the top option in Chicago on a team that is knocking on the door of being very competitive in 2024.

Another team out there that could throw big money at Pittman Jr is the New England Patriots.  Imagine the punch in the gut for Ballard and Colts fans everywhere if that happened.  The Patriots need a top receiver and Pittman would be that possession type, big play receiver that could rejuvenate an offense that was last in the league a season ago.  Those two possibilities are intriguing, but I can’t see him leading Indianapolis.  It sounds like Ballard wants to lock Pittman up long-term and will use the franchise tag to take care of business.