Much has been made of the recent contractual issues facing the Colts, as Peyton Manning, Antoine Bethea, Robert Mathis, and Reggie Wayne all await new contracts. The shaky future of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement has many players unsure of what could happen, and facing a possible reality that there is no football in 2011. Unsettling for sure, but one thing it does is provide an extra incentive for players who are looking for new contracts to play at the highest levels of their careers, to do their biggest posturing for a new deal on the football field.
While there are plenty of reasons for fans and media members to express concern for the Colts future, with so many players on the cusp of requiring new deals to stay with the franchise, the short-term result of that situation has been overlooked. The reality is that players typically work hardest, have the most inspiration to perform, when they are playing for lucrative contracts, particularly when most players in the NFL have only one shot of getting a lucrative contract and cannot afford to miss out on that opportunity when it presents itself.
Consider Joseph Addai, Adam Vinatieri, Tony Ugoh, Charlie Johnson, Clint Session, Melvin Bullitt, Daniel Muir, Antonio Johnson, Eric Foster, Jamie Silva, and Kyle DeVan are all players who currently have obtained no security for the 2011 season. Seven of those players are starters, three are key contributors and important depth. On top of that, Bob Sanders is coming off of missing almost two straight seasons and certainly is playing to keep his spot on the roster as his cap hit is sizable and that massive group of deserving players who are looking for contracts could use some of the space his large contract is currently occupying.
Wayne and Mathis want new deals but both are increasing in age and have legitimate contenders for starting time on the roster already. If they hope to have meaningful discussions of lucrative contract extensions following the 2010 season, neither can afford to slip from their Pro Bowl form and both have reason to play the best seasons of their careers. Anthony Gonzalez is playing in a stacked group of receivers and could be competing with Reggie Wayne for a big contract extension in the same year (2012), so he cannot afford to let his health slip and will need to make the most of every opportunity he is given this year. Mike Pollak’s contract will also expire in 2012 and he has lost his starting job to Kyle DeVan and may have to prove himself as the heir to Jeff Saturday in order to demand a lucrative contract when Saturday retires.
Jacob Tamme, Mike Hart, and Pierre Garçon are all in similar situations. They all play in positions where the Colts are saturated with talent. Hart and Tamme are limited in their opportunities to make an impact and cannot afford to squander a single carry or catch when they see the field. Garçon played a solid sophomore season but cannot afford to slip in production if he hopes to make Polian and owner Jim Irsay comfortable enough to let Wayne go if his contract demands are higher than the team is willing to meet.
Look, there is a harsh reality in the NFL, and the players are all aware of it: NO ONE IS GOING TO GIVE YOU ANYTHING, YOU HAVE TO EARN IT. This could be no clearer in a player’s head than when that player plays on a roster loaded with talent, on a crash course with a logjam of contract issues, with the future of the franchise on the line. It is no secret that players tend to play their best when their NFL futures are on the line, Washington can tell you what happened with Albert Haynesworth.
This intangible could make the Indianapolis Colts the deadliest team in the NFL in 2010. There may not be another franchise in the league with the overall talent of the Colts. When that talent is coupled with desperation to not only finish what they could not in 2009, but to also do what they can as individuals to ensure their long-term financial futures, a recipe for greatness could be brewing in Indy for 2010.