This is the ninth in a series of scouting reports on 15 key players who are slated to become free agents — restricted or unrestricted — March 5, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Historically, the Colts have chosen not to break the bank to retain their free-agent linebackers, allowing more than a few good ones (Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington, David Thornton, Cato June) to split the scene. But Brackett turned out to be an exception to the Colts' free-agent rule, agreeing to a new five-year deal with the team early on the first full day of this offseaspn's free-agency period. "He's a good player, and he's a leader and he's a guy we'd like to get signed," said team president Bill Polian when asked about Brackett, the undisputed heart and soul of the Colts' underrated 2009 defense, a week after the Super Bowl. "There's no guarantee with an unrestricted free agent, but we'll make every effort to get it done."
In a recent interview with the Indianapolis Star, Brackett's agent, Brian Mackler, acknowledged that he and Polian had been actively discussing a potential new deal for Brackett, who signed a four-year, $10.1 million deal in 2006 that included $3.5 million in bonuses. "Gary has expressed his great desire to retire a Colt," said Mackler. "I'm going to do my best to honor his wishes, and Bill and I are going to continue to talk." If the Colts had a potential replacement waiting in the wings to replace Brackett, they might not have been so willing to accommodate Brackett, but they really don't.
Notes: In his seventh season with the Colts, Brackett, who turns 30 on May 23, was a steady force both against the run and in coverage. He finished the season as the team's second-leading tackler with 115 behind S Antoine Bethea and also had one sack, seven QB pressures, one interception, three passes defensed and one fumble recovery, based on film review by Colts coaches. Brackett also played well in the playoffs. Against the Ravens he had a particularly strong game, racking up five tackles, one sack on a blitz and one defended pass when he chased RB Ray Rice down the field. Brackett accumulated more than 100 tackles for the fifth straight season (by the team's count), including the 2008 campaign, when he registered only two fewer tackles than he did this past season despite being inactive the final four games due to a leg injury. The recipient of the 2009 Arthur S. Arkush Humanitarian Award, Brackett is also a well-regarded civic leader off the field who is involved in numerous charities.
Positives: Brackett is the quintessential gamer, a hardworking grinder who will never take his undrafted roots for granted. What he lacks in physical stature (he's undersized at 5-11, 235) and pure speed, he more than makes up for with his smarts and nonstop effort. Brackett consistently plays faster and bigger than he is. In the words of one team insider: "He's a poor man's Ray Lewis," a coach on the field who excels at properly lining everybody up on the field within the Colts' scheme. Although very humble and reserved off the field, he really gets cranked up for games and has become a genuinely inspirational team leader, both on and off the field — an extra dimension that makes him even more valuable.
Negatives: While Brackett seems to fit like a glove in the Colts' system, it's quite possible he would be a square peg in any other system except the very specialized one in Indianapolis. While he stayed healthy this year, Brackett did wear down physically the year before, and approaching the age of 30, it's certainly conceivable that he might start to slow down.
Risk factor: As much as anything, it boiled down to a matter of pure dollars and cents, with the Colts apparently willing to pay top dollar to Brackett. Now, they still have to work on a new contract for QB Peyton Manning and hope there isn't much of a market for the key restricted free agents (Antoine Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, Charlie Johnson, Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir) that they decided to tender.
Saturday: Broncos WR Brandon Marshall
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