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The Colts have maintained a relatively low profile since losing the Super Bowl to the Saints in early February. But they took care of some significant business early Friday morning, agreeing to a new five-year deal with starting MLB Gary Brackett, one of the team's two unrestricted free agents. Both team president Bill Polian and owner Jim Irsay had said recently that the re-signing of Brackett, who has been the Colts' starting middle linebacker since 2005 and defensive captain since 2007, was considered a top priority.
After saying at the Super Bowl that he envisioned making Colts QB Peyton Manning the league's richest player with a new deal this offseason, Irsay publicly promised to also make Brackett one of the better-paid players at his position. The 29-year-old Brackett, who was an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers in 2003, just completed a four-year, $10.1 million deal that included $3.5 million in bonuses.
The PFW spin
In addition to breaking the bank — ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Brackett would receive a five-year, $33 million deal, including a $12 million signing bonus — Brackett broke team tradition.
Historically, the Colts have opted to let some pretty decent linebackers (Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington, David Thornton, Cato June) split the scene after becoming free agents. But Brackett, a true team leader both on and off the field, as well as a consistently productive player, was considered just too valuable to follow in those LBs' footsteps.
Brackett has topped 100 tackles each of the last five seasons (according to the team's tape reviews, not the official NFL stats), including a career-best 149 in 2007 and 115 tackles last season, which ranked him second in that category behind starting FS Antoine Bethea, one of 14 Colts restricted free agents. Playing bigger than his size and faster than his speed, Brackett has, in most team insiders' opinions, replaced SS Bob Sanders as the heart and soul of an underrated Colts defense that ranked eighth in points allowed last season.
The signing of Brackett virtually eliminates the Colts from this year's free-agent sweepstakes. As one of the league's "final four" teams (along with the Saints, Vikings and Jets), the Colts can sign an unrestricted free agent only after losing one. Aside from ancient PK Matt Stover, who is expected to retire, Brackett was the team's only UFA. It's unlikely, however, that the Colts would have been major players in free agency anyway, considering Polian's well-documented preference to build the team through the draft.
Since losing to the Saints in the Super Bowl, it's worth noting that the Colts have been strangely under the radar on the national scene. Polian normally doesn't hesitate to make himself available to the national media at the NFL Scouting Combine, but at this year's Combine, both he and head coach Jim Caldwell were conspicuous by their absences.
The team announcement Wednesday that Manning had undergone a procedure to relieve pain in his neck caused by a pinched nerve seemed to come out of nowhere. In addition, the recent hiring of former Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner to an unspecified position on the team's coaching staff remains a bit of a mystery, with the future of longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore becoming increasingly cloudy.
While re-upping with Brackett is viewed widely as an encouraging move, the Colts' defense might have suffered a blow if eight-year veteran DL Raheem Brock makes good on his tweet Thursday that indicated he had played his final down in a Colts uniform.
Brock, who started 104 of the 120 games in which he played for the Colts, was under contract through 2010 and was due to make $3.79 million this season. If he is indeed done as a Colt, it will increase the likelihood that the team will spend a high pick on a defensive lineman in late April.
For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.