The Indianapolis Colts began phase one of their eight week offseason program on Monday, and most players were in attendance. There was the notable appearances by newly-signed and highly-anticipated free agents such as wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore, and outside linebacker Trent Cole. Familiar stars such as Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton were also in attendance. And even tight end Dwayne Allen, who talked with the team and will work out in Arizona this offseason, was in attendance on Monday for the first day of the workouts.
One notable player who has been a starter for the last three seasons for the team and is a projected starter in 2015, however, wasn't in attendance as the team began their offseason program. According to the Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder, inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman is skipping the workouts over a desire for a new contract.
Starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, a restricted free agent who remains unsigned, has so far elected not to participate, according to an NFL source. And his absence - as well as his decision, thus far, to not sign the offer he was tendered - appears connected to a desire for a new contract.
Freeman, though not technically under contract, can participate in offseason workouts. Because he's been tendered a restricted free agent contract from the team -- giving the Colts the right of first refusal to any competing offer -- Freeman is permitted to join the team by signing a separate document that would protect him is he chose to work out. So far, Freeman has elected not to.
Jerrell Freeman was a restricted free agent this offseason, and in fact he was the only restricted free agent that the Colts tendered (they also tendered three exclusive rights free agents). The Colts placed a second round tender on Freeman, meaning that if he were to sign another offer sheet from a team the Colts would have the right of first refusal, and if Freeman did indeed leave the Colts, Indy would receive a second round pick for his services. If Freeman were to sign the tender, it would give him a one-year contract worth $2.35 million.
Freeman is running out of time if he's looking for leverage by signing another team's offer sheet - the deadline for that to happen is April 24, which is this Friday. With that said, however, Freeman still does possess some leverage against the Colts. It sounds like he's skipping the offseason workouts, and the Colts couldn't rescind his tender until June 15. So Freeman still has time to sign the offer sheet if he wishes, but according to Holder, it sounds like he wants a new deal.
And really, that's understandable. Since being signed out of the Canadian Football League in 2012, Freeman has started 44 games for the Colts and has recorded 366 tackles, nine sacks, 14 passes defensed, three interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown), eight forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. He led the Colts in tackles in both 2012 and 2013, and in 2014 he was second on the team. He has been a good player inside for the Colts, and while he hasn't been among the best in the league and had a bit of a down year in 2014, he's absolutely a starting-caliber player at inside linebacker and one that the Colts should bring back. The value that they place on him is clear in the second round tender that they extended to him, and that's very fair.
On one hand, the $2.35 million that Freeman would get in 2015 simply by signing the Colts' offer sheet would be a very substantial raise for the linebacker after the past couple of seasons. And while he would very likely more on the open market, I think it's a fair price for Freeman. From Freeman's perspective, however, you can see why he wants a new contract. He'll be 29 years old on May 1, has been a very productive player for the Colts over the past three seasons, and has been playing at a massive discount recently. He might be wanting a more long-term deal for slightly more money, and if so, it's hard to blame him.
Right now, it doesn't really sound like there's an issue or that there is bad blood between the two sides. Rather, it just sounds like Freeman is holding out for a new contract. It's a noteworthy story now but probably not a huge deal just yet, though it's something to keep an eye on. Will Freeman play in 2015 under the restricted free agent tender the Colts placed on him? Will the Colts give him the new deal he's looking for? These are questions that we'll be watching this offseason.