Just one day before the Indianapolis Colts likely would have used the franchise designation to keep Reggie Wayne off the unrestricted free agent market, the team on Wednesday reached agreement with their standout wide receiver on a six-year contract extension.
The extension, which is expected to be officially executed later this week, could be worth nearly $40 million and includes bonuses totaling $13 million-$14 million.
Team president and general manager Bill Polian had reiterated several times in recent weeks that the club would not lose Wayne in free agency. Had the parties not reached accord on the extension, the Colts almost certainly would have applied the franchise tag to Wayne, at a cost of $6.172 million.
Securing Wayne means that Indianapolis still has the franchise marker available, and could use it to keep tailback Edgerrin James, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency. It is unlikely, however, given the cap ramifications, that Indianapolis will tag James for a second year in a row. At the Pro Bowl last week, the veteran tailback indicated to ESPN.com that he is prepared to play elsewhere in 2006.
The Colts have until Thursday to decide if they want to apply the franchise designation to any of their pending unrestricted free agents.
A first-round pick in the 2001 draft, Wayne has developed into one of the NFL's top No. 2 wide receivers. Unlike many No. 2 wideouts in the past, who signed lucrative deals with new teams in free agency and then flopped, Wayne acknowledged during the season that it might be in his best interests to stay with the Colts, and one of the NFL's premier passing offenses, if amenable contract terms could be reached.
The former University of Miami star has blossomed in the high-octane Indianapolis attack and his new deal will reflect his status as one of the NFL's best young pass-catchers. It also means the Colts' potent three-wideout group of Marvin Harrison, Wayne and Brandon Stokley remains intact.
Wayne, 27, has appeared in 77 games and started 64 of them. He has 304 receptions for 4,164 yards and 28 touchdowns. Wayne posted a career-best 83 catches in 2005, but most observers feel his best season was in 2004, when he had 77 receptions for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.