safety Bob Sanders
has signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with Indianapolis that includes $20 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL sources.
The contract makes Sanders, 26, the highest-paid safety in the NFL.
The Pro Bowl selection, whose playoff performance sparked the Colts on their run to a Super Bowl victory last season, would have been an unrestricted free agent after this season. Sanders is a strong contender for this year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
The Colts have doled out record contracts before to other top players. Before the start of training camp, Dwight Freeney
signed a $72 million, six-year deal, making him the league's highest-paid defensive end. The contract included a $30 million signing bonus.
After the 2003 season, quarterback Peyton Manning
agreed to what was then a record $99.2 million, seven-year contract that contained a still-record $34.5 million signing bonus.
Sanders' signing is significant because Colts tight end Dallas Clark
, who is having a career year, is a unrestricted free agent after this season. Getting Sanders signed now means that if Indianapolis can't reach agreement with Clark on a new deal, they'll have the option of using the franchise tag to retain him for 2008.
Chris Mortensen covers the NFL for ESPN. ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli contributed to this story.