How important is it for the Colts to re-sign Dwight Freeney?
That’s the question periodically being bantered about amongst many fans and in NFL circles in regards to Indianapolis’ star defensive end and his desired contract. Colts owner Jim Irsay will undoubtedly try to do what it takes to keep Freeney in a Colts uniform for many years to come, but will it be too expensive – or costly in some other way – for the team to hold onto him?
There’s little doubt that it will be an expensive investment, because the franchise tag value for a defensive end in 2006 was set at $8.8 million. Based on that figure, the 2007 hit will be an estimated $9.6 million dollars if the Colts have to use the tag on Freeney. That will wipe out much of the cap room that the team is currently projected to have for the 2007 season with their current personnel.
Or will it?
Peyton Manning is due a $10 million roster bonus in March, which can be converted to a signing bonus and spread evenly, adding another $7.5 million in room. You could also see a potential extension for Tarik Glenn negotiated prior to the start of next season as well to clear some space.
Based on current projections for Glenn, he will hit the cap for about $8 million next year, the final year of his current contract. If you’re wondering how much space they could clear if they release him instead, they could save about $5.5 million. But the team would still take a dead money hit of $2.5 million – and they’d have a void to fill at left tackle.
The Colts could opt to go the franchise tag route with Freeney for 2007 or front-load his contract heavier in 2007 because 2008 will actually be the most difficult year to keep him around. First and foremost, the franchise tag value for him will exceed $11.5 million (120% rule) in 2008, if he’s not resigned long term. Another reason why it’s going to be difficult is the impending free agency of both safety Bob Sanders and tight end Dallas Clark who can opt out of their current deals in 2008. Add a potential new deal for Tarik Glenn if they just run his current contract out, and maybe one for Montae Reagor, who can also opt out, and you’ve got a mess. So Freeney may be important, but so are Sanders, Clark, and even Glenn.
Dwight Freeney wants to be the best-paid defensive player or the highest-paid player in the league -- depending on what sources of information you believe. There is no doubt that he’s worth $10 million a season as the top defensive player in the league, however he ought to know that the highest paid player in the league at this moment is Peyton Manning. You simply aren’t going to get that kind of money as long as he’s on the roster. No team’s cap can handle that load without disastrous results.
While the team could have tried to negotiate an extension for Freeney up to this past Monday, there hasn’t been an announcement of any such move as of yet. And for both sides involved it probably makes more sense to start negotiations on a contract that will count for 2007 since the league is going to allow six-year contracts next year instead of just five. That helps spread out Freeney’s bonus money better, and for Freeney, it means he can get paid very well till he’s 33 years old.
In any case, you can already see that this scenario could get very interesting. Adding to the potential drama is the fact that Freeney may be losing some free agency leverage by sitting at the midpoint of the season with just half a sack after four consecutive seasons of double-digit productivity in that category and no forced fumbles after averaging almost six per season during his first four years in the league. And at his current pace he could finish with just 16 tackles, well below even his next-lowest production of 27 during his sophomore season.
While some may want to believe that sacks are down across the board because of rule changes, that’s simply not true in all cases. A good example is a guy who will visit this weekend, Aaron Schobel, who has seven sacks at the midpoint after averaging 10 sacks a year over his last four seasons.
Of course, Freeney’s contributions go far beyond the pure stats, but that’s a gray area that is tough to prove at the negotiating table. In any case, with so many other contracts coming up for key players in 2008, what the Colts decide to do with Dwight Freeney in 2007 will be one of the most interesting sagas of the offseason. While they may be able to handle the expense of re-signing him, the bigger question is whether or not they’ll be able to handle the potential cost of lost talent at other positions as a result.