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Dwight Freeney will become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL if and when he and the Indianapolis Colts settle on a new contract. In the best interests of both, it should be sooner rather than later.
Freeney is the team's best defensive performer, and the Colts aren't interested in losing him. That's why they made him their franchise player, a designation that will pay $9.43 million this season and $11.3 million, or 120 percent of this year's salary, in 2008.
That's a lot of guaranteed money the next two years. So why not spare Freeney and the Colts unnecessary anguish and get this thing over now?
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| Dwight Freeney is the motor that powers the Colts' championship defense. (Getty Images) || |
The Colts have until July 15 to complete a long-term deal, and my guess is they beat the deadline. First, look at their history. The last time they dealt with a contract of this magnitude they took the clock down to the end before signing quarterback Peyton Manning to a seven-year, $98 million deal.
Second, it makes sense. They're already on the hook to Freeney for $20 million the next two seasons, or the same amount of guaranteed money New Orleans paid its franchise player, defensive end Charles Grant, this spring.
Grant and Freeney were first-round draft picks in 2002, but the similarities end there. Freeney is more of an impact player, with a club-record 56 1/2 sacks, which means he will command more money than Grant.
But how much more? That's the hang up, with the two sides apart on their estimations of Freeney's worth.
That's OK. They still have three weeks. But keep this in mind: If the Colts and Freeney don't resolve this -- if they fail to complete a long-term deal -- we'll be having this same conversation next summer.
Only the price of Freeney will have gone up.
It kind of reminds me of that Midas commercial years ago. You know the one where the guy says, "You can pay me now or pay me later?" Only here it's more like: You can pay him now, AND pay him later.
Dwight Freeney is an investment and it's not as if he's near the end of his career. He's 27, is a three-time Pro Bowler and is durable -- missing one game in five years because of injury.
And he's not a dispensable part. He's the Peyton Manning of the Colts' defense. He's one of the top three defensive ends in the business. And he figures prominently in the Colts' long-term future.
It makes sense all around to settle this immediately. Because if it's not, you know what will happen: Freeney will be a no-show at training camp and probably not sign the one-year tender until just before the start of the regular season.
And that, folks, is not how you defend a Super Bowl title.
I know it's easy to advise others on money when you're not the one spending $30 million or so in cash. But the Colts are in to Freeney for $20 million the next two seasons, anyway, so what's the big deal?
Some people will ask: Because the Colts let star running back Edgerrin James walk after a year as their franchise player, why couldn't they do the same with Freeney? Well, they could, but it's not likely. In fact, it's virtually unfathomable.
First, the shelf life of a running back is less than that of a defensive end. James was 28 last season, and the Colts figured he had two to three years left. What's more, it's easier to replace a running back than it is a franchise pass rusher, and no one knows better than Indianapolis president Bill Polian.
He's the guy who replaced Marshall Faulk with James and James with Joseph Addai.
Second, no offense, Bob Sanders, but Freeney is the most important player the Colts have on defense. Until last season he produced double-digit sacks in every year, including a league-high 16 in 2004, and he regularly draws double and triple-team attention by opponents.
Defensive ends don't decline at 27. So Freeney didn't have a great season in 2006. Big deal. He's still the most disruptive force on the Colts' defense -- with his team-high 33 quarterback pressures last year an indication.
I love watching Manning and the Indianapolis offense, but they didn't carry the Colts to the Super Bowl by themselves. Look at Indianapolis' first two playoff games. It was the Colts' defense, not Manning and Co., that made the difference.
So do what you did with the Indianapolis offense. Earmark the most valuable defensive players -- guys you want to build your unit around for the next 5-10 years -- and pay them the big bucks.
That means you start with Freeney, and you start now.