Colts' Sanders signs for five years, $37.5 million -- tops among safeties

Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders has signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract extension that includes $20 million in guaranteed money.

The contract makes Sanders, 26, the highest-paid safety in the NFL.

Colts spokesman Craig Kelley said the team would not confirm the
deal, but Sanders told The Associated Press in a telephone
interview that he had signed the deal Friday.

"I got a call late in the evening yesterday from my agent and
he said he was hoping to get it done,'' Sanders told the AP. "I'm
excited, very excited about it -- knowing they want me around here
makes me happy.''

The Pro Bowl selection, whose playoff performance sparked the Colts on their run to a Super Bowl victory last season, would have been an unrestricted free agent after this season. Sanders is a strong contender for this year's NFL defensive player of the year honors.

Sanders' average salary of $7.5 million under the extension is nearly $1 million more than what the Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu got in his new deal in July, and the guaranteed money is more than what Ed Reed got when he signed an extension with the Baltimore Ravens in June 2006.

The Colts have doled out record contracts before to other top players. Before the start of training camp, Dwight Freeney signed a $72 million, six-year deal, making him the league's highest-paid defensive end. The contract included a $30 million signing bonus.

After the 2003 season, quarterback Peyton Manning agreed to what was a then-record
$99.2 million, seven-year contract that contained a still-record $34.5 million signing bonus.

"When you come in, it's hard but you've got to prove yourself
and play well consistently,'' Sanders said. "Just to be named with
those guys, I'm honored. It's a great honor.''

Coach Tony Dungy calls Sanders "The Eraser'' for his ability
to cover up mistakes.

He is also the heart of the Colts defense.

Last year, when Sanders missed 12 regular-season games, the
Colts allowed a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry. When he returned
in the playoffs, the Colts made a dramatic turnaround and wound up
winning the Super Bowl. Sanders received much of the credit.

This year, with Sanders missing just one game because of injury,
the Colts defense ranks
No. 1 in the league against the pass and
has allowed a more respectable 3.9 yards per carry.

But Sanders had a bigger personal goal this year: staying

"It was just about being a player, being competitive,'' he
said. "I wanted to show everyone I could stay healthy. There were
a lot of questions about whether I could stay healthy and I wanted
to prove to everyone and myself that I could stay healthy, be
consistent and play well.''

With Sanders playing closer to the line of scrimmage, almost as
a linebacker for much of the season, he has 123 tackles, 2½ sacks,
two interceptions and one forced fumble.

But his impact cannot be measured solely in numbers.

When Freeney went down with a season-ending
foot injury in mid-November, Sanders became the defense's
uncontested leader and the results have been impressive.

Sanders' signing is also significant because Colts tight end Dallas Clark, who is having a career year, is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Getting Sanders signed now means that if Indianapolis can't reach agreement with Clark on a new deal, it will have the option of using the franchise tag to retain him for 2008.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior NFL writers Chris Mortensen and Len Pasquarelli was used in this report.