Although the size of Dwight Freeney's six-year, $72 million contract may appear to be staggering at first, it makes long-term sense for the Colts.
A defensive player inevitably was going to crack the $10 million a year plateau. Freeney's landmark contract will certainly adjust the salary figures of top defensive playmakers now that the salary cap has risen to $109 million for 2007 and is expected to go to $116 million next year.
Freeney is the Colts' best defensive player. For a team that has spent on offense since the drafting of Peyton Manning in 1998, the Colts couldn't afford to lose Freeney in free agency, nor could their salary cap afford franchising him. Freeney would have counted more than $20 million against the cap over the next two years ($9.43 in 2007, $11.316 in 2008) if the Colts kept placing the franchise tag on him. Under his new deal, he'll count for just $5.75 million in both 2007 and 2008.
Naturally, general managers and capologists around the NFL initially will cringe at Freeney's contract. He's receiving a $30 million signing bonus. Over the first three years of his contract, he's going to receive $37.72 million. What everyone might be forgetting is general manager Bill Polian geared his whole offseason planning around getting a Freeney contract done. The Colts didn't spend more than $50,000 in signing-bonus money for any free-agent acquisition.
With Freeney's $30 million signing bonus, the Colts are still below the $109 million salary cap for 2007 and their cap number will go down roughly $4 million more once the team releases injured defensive tackle Corey Simon. In other words, the Colts aren't going broke rewarding their top defensive player.
The team saved $3.68 million of cap room by doing this deal. Add that to the money saved from releasing Simon and the Colts will have enough money to sign their draft choices and start working on locking up some of their other top free agents -- left tackle Tarik Glenn and safety Bob Sanders head that list.
The key for the Colts was keeping the core group of their team together. Although they let Edgerrin James go, Polian was able to lockup Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to keep the Colts' offense together. Freeney's deal was the long-awaited move to do the same for the defense.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.