After signing a multi-year deal on Monday, it looks as if Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis will play his entire National Football League career with the Indianapolis Colts.
Mathis, who was due to become an unrestricted free agent March 13, agreed to terms on a new contract shortly after team officials had placed the franchise tag on the 31-year old defensive lineman. By applying the franchise tag, the Colts were unable to use it in an effort to keep wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
A new deal with Mathis was reportedly decided before Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline. But Indianapolis front office personnel wanted to make sure that a new contract was done before anything was announced. That’s why the Colts went ahead and used the franchise tag.
“Still Bleedin Blue!!!,” Mathis tweeted Monday afternoon.
He has totaled 334 career tackles while contributing with 83.5 sacks, 39 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries and eight passes broken up.
His career sack total ranks second in franchise history behind defensive end Dwight Freeney (102.5). Since 2003, when he first arrived in the National Football League, Mathis has led the franchise in forced fumbles and is tied for first with Raheem Brock in fumble recoveries. He has 19 multiple-sack games in his career, which includes two three-plus sack contests.
The team’s decision to keep the pass-rushing defensive end in the fold may have come as surprise to those who didn’t think Mathis or Freeney would be good fits in an Indianapolis defense that is expected to shift from a 4-3 alignment (four linemen and three linebackers) to a 3-4 set.
But Colts coach Chuck Pagano, speaking at the National Football Scouting Combine earlier in the month, was adamant about keeping both players on the Indianapolis roster.
“I know those guys have been game-wreckers for a long time. Offenses have to account for both of those guys. First and foremost, we’re going to make sure we put both of those guys in position to make plays,” Pagano said.
“I don’t think it would be very smart on my part or anyone else’s part to not make sure that doesn’t happen. Both of those guys are great players and have been great players here for a long time. Those guys are Colts through and through. We fully expect to have them here as long as we can.”
For his part, Mathis had wanted to stay in Indianapolis. Late last season, he had talked about wanting to have a chance to play in a 3-4 defensive system like the Baltimore Ravens use at some point in his career. Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2011.
“Making that move [to a 3-4 defense] is not easy, but it’s not impossible. I think as we evolve and you go through free agency, the draft and combine, for years to come it will get easier as we go,” the Colts coach explained.
“If we can’t make the transformation overnight and go a pure 3-4 or hybrid 3-4, we’re going to do what’s best for our players and put them in a spot to be successful. It’s an ongoing process like we said and we’ll continue to evaluate and see where we’re at.”
The decision to franchise and then re-sign Mathis means that several key Colts will likely be available to be signed by other teams. Wide receivers Garcon, Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez will all be unrestricted free agents.
The remainder of the Indianapolis free-agent list includes center Jeff Saturday (unrestricted), offensive guard Ryan Diem (unrestricted), outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (unrestricted), offensive guard Mike Pollak (unrestricted), defensive tackle Eric Foster (unrestricted), quarterback Dan Orlovsky (unrestricted), tight end Jacob Tamme (unrestricted), defensive end Jamaal Anderson (unrestricted), defensive end Tyler Brayton (unrestricted), outside linebacker Ernie Sims (unrestricted), offensive guard Jamey Richard (unrestricted), offensive tackle Quinn Ojinnaka (unrestricted), fullback Jerome Felton (unrestricted), outside linebacker Kevin Bentley (unrestricted), cornerback Jacob Lacey (restricted free agent), tight end Anthony Hill (exclusive rights free agent) and safety Stevie Brown (exclusive rights free agent).
And then there’s quarterback Peyton Manning, who is due a $28-million team bonus by 4 p.m. Thursday. If Indianapolis officials decide not to pay the bonus, he will be released and would be free to sign immediately with another team.
If Manning doesn’t agree to a incentive-laden restructured contract, which has been proposed by team owner Jim Irsay, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He missed the 2011 season under undergoing four medical procedures on his neck over the last 19 months.