|Indianapolis franchised Mathis but only as a formality while they hammered out the details of his new deal. (Getty Images)|
By Ryan Wilson
Last week, talks were reportedly heating up between the Colts and free-agent defensive end Robert Mathis but the two sides didn't come to an agreement until Monday afternoon, the team announced in a statement. As a formality, Indianapolis designated Mathis as their franchise player while finishing up the paperwork for the new contract.
Mathis' deal is reportedly worth $36 million over four years with a $15 million signing bonus, according to the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell.
As for what Mathis brings to the Colts' defense, we'll repeat what we wrote last week: New Colts head coach Chuck Pagano comes to Indy from the Ravens where he was the defensive coordinator. Historically, this is an organization that has eschewed defense and deferred to Peyton Manning -- and for good reason. Prior to the 2-14 egg the team laid in 2011, the Colts had won 10 games or more 11 times in Manning's 13 seasons, making the postseason 11 times and winning the whole thing in 2006. Prior to Manning's arrival -- and since the Colts came to Indy in 1984 -- they made three postseason appearances.
But the Manning era is just about done, and Pagano understands that a good defense can carry an average offense featuring a young quarterback a long way. Joe Flacco is the most obvious example, but Ben Roethlisberger was the beneficiary of a stout defense early in his career, and Mark Sanchez made two straight AFC Conference Championship game appearances in large part because of the Jets defense. With Andrew Luck next in line in Indy, bolstering the defense only makes sense.
But Mathis is 31, not an ideal fit in the 3-4 defense Pagano will install, and will tie up valuable salary-cap dollars with a new deal. That said, he's played at a high level for all but one of his nine years in the league; he had 9.5 sacks in '11 and 11 the year before that. Not counting his rookie season, Mathis has averaged 10 sacks a season. It's reasonable to conclude that he's still a capable pass-rusher, a commodity defenses can never have enough of.
Plus, in his annual list of the top 50 free agents, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco writes that Mathis "has improved against the run and could easily make the transition from 4-3 end to 3-4 rush 'backer."
Looking at the bigger picture, one of Pagano's goals was to keep Mathis and Dwight Freeney together on the Colts' defensive line.
"First and foremost, we're going to make sure that we put both of those guys in position to make plays," Pagano told reporters at last week's combine (via the Associated Press). "I don't think it would be very smart on my part or anybody else's part to make sure that doesn't happen."
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