Summer Showdown: Bob Sanders v. Melvin Bullitt

No player has had a greater individual impact on the success of the Colts defense in Indianapolis than Bob Sanders.  Of course, the downside to Sanders has always been that he tends to spend a greater portion of each season on the sidelines than he actually does on the field.

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft, Sanders has appeared in only 47 of a possible 96 regular season games.  While the realization that he has failed to play in over half of the games he was eligible to play since he joined the Colts is frustrating on its own, particularly knowing the impact he has when he is on the field, what is even more frustrating is that he is scheduled to receive 20 million dollars over the next three seasons.

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The significance of this season to Bob Sanders’ future with the Colts, and possibly in the NFL cannot be overstated.  Since he earned the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, Sanders has played in only eight of a possible 32 games, and has contributed only 42 tackles, two interceptions, and three passes defensed.

Over that same period, Melvin Bullitt, an undrafted free agent that joined the Colts following the 2007 NFL Draft has played in 29 games and contributed 149 tackles, four interceptions, 10 passes defended, and two forced fumbles.  Bullitt made 461-thousand dollars in 2009 and is currently under a one-year 1.6-million dollar contract for the 2010 season.

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The reality of the situation at strong safety for the Colts moving forward is that the franchise will almost certainly be unable to afford to pay two players lucrative contracts to fill the starting strong safety position and only have one of them fill it.  The Colts can either pay Sanders 16-million dollars in 2011 and 2012 to fill that position or cut his contract and sign Bullitt to a lucrative extension.

This topic is one of the most difficult for me to discuss as, frankly, Bob Sanders is one of my favorite players to ever play for the Colts.  I have owned one Colts jersey in my entire life and it says Sanders on the back of it.  At this time, the safe money is on Bullitt to get a lucrative extension and the Colts to release a player who has been incapable to regularly start in all but two seasons in his NFL career (2005 and 2007).

Beyond that, Sanders has never pulled any punches about the way he plays, which is one-hundred and fifty percent speed at all times, with reckless abandon, and with total disregard for his body.  Any man his size is destined to spend a lot of time in the training room playing with the philosophy and Sanders has only one chance to give the Colts franchise and its fans a reason to believe he can be more reliable moving forward.

Some fans, have become so frustrated with Sanders to this point that they actually believe that Bullitt should remain the starter, even if Sanders is healthy and ready to go.  I believe that is an absurd idea, as there is no comparison between Sanders and Bullitt in pure ability: Sanders is hands down a superior player and has a greater impact on the defense than Bullitt and it is not even close.  I do understand what the opinion is born out of though, and so I see this as one of the most significant battles for the Colts in 2010.

Bob Sanders needs to get healthy, stay healthy, take over his starting role in the defense, and get back to his defensive player of the year form if he hopes to have a future in the NFL.  Likewise, though, Bullitt now more than ever cannot afford to suffer any injury or drop-off in production.  Bullitt is playing for the contract of his career against possibly the best safety in the NFL, when healthy.

How this all plays out will be bitter sweet either way.  The contributions of both Bullitt and Sanders have been extremely important to the Colts but it appears nearly certain that only one of them will be on the Colts roster in 2011.

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