The Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts (I'll never get tired of saying that!) signed defensive end Dwight Freeney to a 6-year, $72 million contract which makes him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. (As you no doubt could tell by reading the thread title).
To me, this begs the question of "with what?", since Peyton's got a maximum contract and I imagine Marvin's well-paid too. When does Addai become a free agent? Are we handcuffing ourselves by giving this kinda money to someone who, well, had their best season two years ago and had a relatively disappointing 2006?
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Addai is signed through 2010. And since he's still playing under his rookie contract, Addai's cap numbers are quite small (less than 2 mil per year).
But the Colts are also paying rather big money to Reggie Wayne as well.
Cap numbers: Year Manning Harrison Freeney Wayne 2006 13.7 mil 6.4 mil 6.3 mil 5.1 mil 2007 6.4 mil 8.4 mil 5.8 mil 5.5 mil 2008 16.9 mil 12.0 mil 8.5 mil* 6 mil 2009 19.2 mil 13.4 mil 8.5 mil* 7.5 mil 2010 21.2 mil 14.4 mil 16.4 mil* 8 mil *approx
The Freeney deal has a $30 million dollar signing bonus, and pays $37.72 mil over the first 3 years. So like most contracts, the first 3 years are pretty reasonable. And like most contracts, all the money past those 3 years is basically imaginary money. Either he'll restructure before 2010, which will spread the cap hit over later years, or he'll be cut.
Harrison's contract is safe through 2008. After that, the team has the leverage to force him to renegotiate a lower contract, or they can cut him without too bad of a cap hit. After 2009, his salary is greater than the cap hit the team would suffer if they cut him, making him an easy cap casualty.
Manning's contract really doesn't become crazy until 2008, when his base salary goes up from $1 million to $10 million. The team will probably do whatever they can to continually lower his cap hit (usually by guaranteeing roster bonuses, letting them spread the cap hit over the remaining years of his contract). I remember the Packers doing this seemingly every year for a while for Brett Favre. At some point, though, this strategy catches up with you. You end having a huge cap hit for a past-his-prime QB (Favre has a cap hit of $16 million dollars in 2007.). Manning is 6 years younger than Favre, so that shouldn't be an issue for a while, but you never know how long anyone's going to last in this league.
To sum it up, the Colts are getting 3 more relatively cheap years out of a Pro Bowl player, and 3 years is the most any team can afford to look ahead.
And it's like I heard somewhere else. The salary cap continues to go up, so Freeney won't be the highest paid defensive player for long. Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and Justin Smith will all probably be higher than him when they sign new contracts.
ESPN article has more details. Also, ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted this: "We'll see if this is true, but have been told by a league source familiar with Cedric Benson's case that it is 'very minor.'" For what it's worth...