The landmark six-year, $72 million contract to which the Indianapolis Colts signed star pass rusher Dwight Freeney last week, the largest contract ever awarded a defensive player in the NFL, is relatively salary cap-friendly for a deal of such magnitude.
At least for the first two seasons.
League salary documents reviewed on Saturday evening by ESPN.com show that not until the 2009 season, when the cap charge skyrockets to $11.22 million, will Colts management have to swallow hard from a cap standpoint. At that point, of course, it is possible that the contract will have to be restructured to lessen the salary cap impact.
But for 2007 and 2008, the salary cap charges are a palatable $5.75 million each year. By signing Freeney to the long-term deal, Indianapolis actually reduced by nearly $4 million the 2007 cap charge it had been carrying for him, because he was designated a franchise player.
Freeney, 27, is a three-time Pro Bowl performer. The team's first-round selection in the 2002 draft, Freeney has 56 ½ sacks in five seasons. The former Syracuse star registered at least 11 sacks in each of his first four seasons, but had just 5 ½ in 2006.
According to league salary documents, the standout right defensive end received an initial signing bonus of $15 million and an option bonus of $15 million. The option bonus is guaranteed by a non-exercise penalty. That essentially means, if the Colts don't exercise the option, they must pay a penalty of $15 million. So therein lies the mammoth $30 million in total guarantees as first reported by ESPN.com's John Clayton.
The base salaries in the contract are $750,000 (for 2007), $750,000 (2008), $6.22 million (2009), $8.825 million (2010), $11.42 million (2011) and $14.035 million (2012).
That's a whopping $25 million-plus in the final two seasons of the contract, money that Freeney might never see. But it's offset by the fact Freeney will bank an amazing $37.72 million in the first three years of the contract, the measure by which most long-term deals are now assessed.
In fact, the per-year average of the deal for the first three seasons ($12.573 million) is actually more than the record six-year average ($12 million). The salary cap charges for the final three years of the contract are $13.825 million (2010), $16.642 million (2011) and $19.035 million (2012).
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.