The Colts President, Bill Polian, throws down the gauntlet regarding the contracts for star players Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis:
"What I told both representatives was that given the current status of both our budget and the labor negotiations, it is not possible to do anything at this point," Polian said on The Sirius Blitz. "I recognize that they are both very good players, that they are great guys, that we respect them highly, that we value their contributions, and when it's time to do that, when it's propitious to do that, when it is possible to do it, we will."
Translation: Don't expect a new contract in 2010, gents.
The source article for the quote above comes from NFL.com, graciously brought to everyone's attention by coltsfan723's FanShot. In the article, it seems Polian specifically refers to Mathis and Wayne. I see no mention of Antoine Bethea, who is the only player on the roster with a legitimate reason to be pissed about his contract situation. Bethea is one of the best safeties in all of football, and the tender the Colts offered him is peanuts compared to what other top NFL safeties make.
The article tells us that Polian and the Colts view Peyton Manning's new contract as the higher priority. Like Wayne and Mathis, Manning clearly wants to make more money. Unlike Wayne and Mathis, Manning attended OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp.
So, to put it bluntly, nothing was accomplished by Mathis and Wayne holding out from OTAs and mini-camp, except creating an unnecessary distraction and, possibly, stunting the growth of the team by not spending valuable time with new teammates like Jerry Hughes and Blair White. Polian has, essentially, told both Wayne and Mathis to shut up, lace up, and get to work.
The next mandatory event scheduled on the calendar is the Colts 2010 Training Camp at Anderson University on August 1st. Will Reggie and Robert holdout from that? Polian doesn't think so:
"I don't think (Wayne) will stay away from training camp because there is a rule this year in the uncapped year that if you do not come in by Aug. 10, you get an extra year tacked onto your contract," Polian said. "So, that is the last thing he wants. He's got two years to run on his contract. So, I presume he will be in."
Uh, yeah. I think it's pretty safe to say Reggie will show up, because that uncapped year rule is a pretty good incentive not to hold out. The status for Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea is less certain. What is certain is the Colts have sent a message to all parties involved, saying that no new contracts are planned until the labor situation is resolved. Mike Florio thinks that the Colts are possibly using the "labor situation" as an excuse:
So why would the Colts or the Jets fear paying fair market value to their most important players simply because the specific rules for 2011 and beyond have yet to be determined?
The easy explanation comes from the possibility that teams have decided, either on their own (which is permissible) or jointly (which isn't) that they will hold down spending until a new deal is done, in order to put maximum pressure on the players.
If it's the latter, it's collusion. And at some point the union should be prepared to aggressively explore the possibility that teams have decided to rein in spending for 2010 in the hopes of making it harder for players to take a stand in 2011.
We're not saying that collusion is occurring. We're only saying that the superficial evidence at least justifies the union looking into the possibility that it is.
Whatever the reason, with Polian's ultimatum (of sorts), the ball is now in Reggie's, Robert's and Antoine's court. The expectation now is that they better show up to training camp, and they better be ready. If they aren't, then other players like Anthony Gonzalez, Jerry Hughes, and Melvin Bullitt should (in theory) have an opportunity to win the starting jobs occupied last year by Wayne, Mathis, and Bethea, respectively. If Jerry Hughes shows up to camp in better shape than Mathis, and looks better on the practice field than Mathis, how can he not have an opportunity at Mathis' job?
In the end, I think all parties will show up to camp and perform quite well. However, Polian's comments make it clear that the Colts have no interest in re-negotiating the contracts of certain players right now. The next move by those players could make a big impact on the 2010 season before it even starts.