Wrap your minds around this nugget, courtesy of Mike Chappell:
In March, the Colts re-signed linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett to a five-year, $33 million contract. In the previous four years, they used team owner Jim Irsay's deep pockets to lock up cornerback Kelvin Hayden (five years, $43 million), safety Bob Sanders (five years, $37.5 million) and defensive ends Dwight Freeney (six years, $73 million) and Robert Mathis (six years, $30 million).
During that five-year stretch, the commitment of Irsay and president Bill Polian to the defense has approached $100 million in guaranteed signing and roster bonuses.
For NFL fans, we do not equate a group being "good" by how much money they make. JaMarcus Russell might have been the biggest bust in the history of the NFL, and the dude made $39 million during his infamous tenure with the Oakland Raiders.
However, you can gauge just how much a defense has improved by how much the team invests in keeping that defense together; especially if the team doing the paying is the Colts.
Prior to 2005, the Colts were making contract offers and extensions only to players on the offensive side of the ball.
In 2004, Peyton Manning agreed to a then-landmark $99.2 million, seven-year contract that paid him $14.1 million in guaranteed money.
Also in 2004, then-Colts receiver Marvin Harrison signed a seven-year, $67 million contract.
In 2006, Reggie Wayne agreed to a $39 million dollar contract; the same contract he is complaining about right now.
In 2008, Dallas Clark signed a six-year, $36 million contract.
That is a ton of dough dished out to skill position players on offense. It's important to note that all the players mentioned above were first round picks.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Colts were trying to make due by having undrafted players play key positions like middle linebacker (Gary Brackett, Nick Harper) and late-round picks tried to provide some pass-rushing support to Dwight Freeney (Raheem Brock, Robert Mathis). For a while, the Colts did very little investing in their defense, watching quality players like David Thornton, Marcus Washington, and Walt Harris leave the team and sign elsewhere.
In recent years, that has changed.
Since 2006, the Colts have let valuable offensive players leave (like Edgerrin James) while retaining key defensive players.
In 2006, Robert Mathis signed a five-year, $30 million extension. Of course, this is the same contract he is complaining about today.
In 2007, Dwight Freeney signed a six-year, $72 million deal that included a $30 million dollar signing bonus.
In 2008, the Sanders deal.
In 2009, Kelvin Hayden inked a 5 year, $43 million dollar deal $22 million guaranteed.
This year, Gary Brackett signed a five-year, $33 million deal.
While all these recent defensive players signings have gone on, potent offensive players like Edge, Tarik Glenn, Brandon Stokley, and Dominic Rhodes were all shown the door. It also just so happens that during this little shift in money management philosophy the Colts have played in two Super Bowls, winning one.
Maybe. But with the team needing to rely more on late-round projects to come through on offense (like Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie) while investing more draft picks in defensive players (Fili Moala, Jerry Hughes, Pat Angerer), it seems the Colts have caught on to this idea that defense does indeed win. Look no further than the Colts playoff run last year. Their defense dominated the Ravens and Jets, both with potent running games and good young QBs. In 2006, the Colts defense keyed their Super Bowl victory.
As we move forward into the uncharted waters of the NFL labor situation, it will be interesting to see if the team continues to invest in defense at the expense of offense. Judging by the last four years, it's a philosophy that's worked.