Robert Mathis Shows True Team Spirit

It won’t go down as a career defining moment for Robert Mathis, but it should.

Twenty years from now, Colts fans will likely remember his Superman dive against Sage Rosenfels as the quintessential Mathis Moment.
That’s probably as it should be, but when it comes time to hoist Mathis’s name into the Colts Ring of Honor (and he’ll unquestionably merit that honor with 74 career sacks and counting) fans would do well to remember his comments yesterday.

Five years ago, the Colts made a brilliant move to lock up Robert Mathis before the rest of the league caught on to how great he was. They paid him a rare front-loaded contract. The result is that the Colts now own the rights to one of the best pass rushers in the NFL (with 74 career sacks) for a paltry cap figure of less than $5 million.

Mathis is 30 years old, and surely realizes that he has one last big deal. He held out of OTAs in 2010, but showed up for training camp on time, and produced yet another Pro Bowl season. With rumors swirling that he was planning to hold out of training camp in 2011, Mathis stepped up to crush them.

He listed three reasons that he isn’t looking to hold out in 2011, citing Manning’s contract, Reggie Wayne’s situation, and the necessity of getting other free agents signed first.

There’s a degree to which Mathis’s reasoning is sound from a strictly cynical position. When the lockout gets lifted, there will be a pecking order the Colts will have to address, and there simply won’t be time to do another major contract on top of everything else that will have to be done first.

What’s truly impressive is that he put Reggie Wayne’s situation, which is similar to Mathis’s, ahead of his own.

Wayne is in roughly the same boat as Mathis. He also has one year left on his deal, and this next contract will likely be his last significant one as an NFL star. The difference is that Mathis is two years younger than Wayne and plays a position that ages better than Wayne’s.  Robert Mathis WILL get paid big money after the 2011 season. Reggie Wayne may not.

31 year-old defensive ends are much more marketable than 33 year-old wideouts.

The Colts would be wise to lock Mathis up for the next four to five years. Reggie Wayne however, is on the tail end of his greatness. Even last year, he had a massive year in terms of compiling stats, but it was not an efficient season.  Resigning Wayne to a deal that can be escaped from in two years is the best the Colts can hope for. In fact, the best strategy for dealing with Wayne could well be the franchise tag in 2012. Overpaying him for one year at age 34 makes more sense than overpaying him for two years at age 35 and 36.

It would have been easy for Mathis to throw his hands up and say, “That’s not my problem”.  He has a case for getting a new deal, and he has a right to make it. Instead, he’s putting his teammates and the franchise ahead of himself. For one of the quietest Colts, that’s real leadership.

There is no question the locker-room is paying attention. The Colts have managed to keep contract squabbles to a minimum in part by paying the locker-room leaders well.

Robert Mathis has agreed to play ball, and not cause a stink. The rest of the Colts are watching. The team would do well to remember that and ante up to take care of him when the time comes.