Yesterday, we took a look at the 2017 Colts free agents, as it's worth looking at which players' contracts will expire following the season. Outside of the obvious (Andrew Luck), the most notable name on that list is outside linebacker Robert Mathis, the longest-tenured Colt.
It's uncertain whether the Colts will re-sign Mathis after the year and that likely depends on how the season goes, but perhaps the more applicable question is first to ask whether Mathis will play another season. He'll be 36 years old when free agency rolls around next year, and it's fair to wonder how much longer he has left to play.
Mathis wonders too, and he's making no commitments either way right now.
“I have to be a realist about it,” Mathis told the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer. “It’s Year 14. I’m coming to the end of the road. You’ve got to enjoy the time while you’ve got it.”
Mathis continued by talking about free agency and how his contract will expire following the 2016 season.
“I’ll tally it up at the end of the season,” he said. “If I feel I should walk away, then that’s what I should do. But if not, I’m gonna keep playing.”
He was a little more committal when talking with ESPN's Mike Wells, however, giving no indication that he's ready to give up football anytime soon.
"The fire still burns and as long as it still burns and you have the opportunity to have a job in the NFL, let it burn," Mathis told Wells. "People say you can't do it, so I want to show I can do it. I have to prove to myself I can still do it and the love is still there. I'm going until the wheels fall off."
Basically, Mathis' situation is the same as most players his age in the NFL: he wants to keep playing, but he's going to evaluate things on a year-to-year basis to determine whether he will keep going. For now, the fire is still burning. After the year, however, he'll take a step back and evaluate things, which next year will include free agency as well.
Mathis has spent 13 seasons with the Colts, racking up a franchise record 118 sacks and 49 forced fumbles. In eight seasons he has recorded at least 9.5 sacks, and over the last few years he has been the only truly reliable pass rusher the Colts have had. In 2013, he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, and then last year after a torn Achilles sidelined him in 2014, Mathis rebounded to still record seven sacks. He didn't really feel healthy for much of last year, however, so it's realistically possible that he could be even better in 2016 and perhaps reach double-digits in sacks. As long as he's playing at that level, there's no reason for him to retire and there's no reason for the Colts to move on from him.
But, again, Mathis isn't committing to it just yet. Instead, he's simply saying that while the fire still burns right now, he'll re-evaluate things next season.