Clearly, the most critical contract situation that needs attention for the Indianapolis Colts once the lockout finally ends is that of quarterback Peyton Manning, who was designated in February as an "exclusive" franchise player by the team.
But two other longtime veterans already under contract for 2011, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive end Robert Mathis, could cause big headaches for team president Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian.
As was the case last spring, when the pair each missed minicamps and OTAs but reported to training camp on time, Wayne and Mathis are expected to seek extensions as they enter the final season of their respective deals. We can't speak for Wayne (2011 base salary of $5.95 million), who signed a six-year, $39 million extension in 2006, and who will turn 33 in November. But The Sports Xchange can report with some degree of certainty that Mathis ($2.41 million in 2011) has no intention of reporting to the club until/unless his contract is addressed.
Said one person close to the Mathis situation: "He'll never play another snap there under that (existing) contract."
Mathis signed a frontloaded five-year, $30 million extension in 2006, and he has collected over $27 million of it. But the 30-year-old, eight-year veteran wants another deal, and seems willing to sit until he gets one. Of course, Mathis insisted the same thing a year ago, but people close to him suggested to The Sports Xchange that he is adamant this time around about his stance.
We'll see. Tough words in June or July aren't always an accurate indicator of just how tough a player will hang in August and September, when fiery rhetoric gives way to the potential for missed paychecks.
A three-time Pro Bowl performer, Mathis is 30, but feels he still has some productive seasons remaining as a pass-rusher. Mathis has 60 sacks over the past six seasons and, according to an NFL.com chart this week, that number represents the third-most in the league over that stretch, six more than were posted by more celebrated teammate Dwight Freeney.
There's no doubt Mathis benefits from the presence of Freeney, who draws plenty of attention from opponents. But Freeney also benefits from having the undersized but explosive Mathis on the other side, as well.
The Harris poll
In the last couple weeks, The Sports Xchange has attempted to identify a few four-year veterans who could merit more attention than perhaps the public perceives if the threshold for unrestricted free agency is dialed back to four seasons of accrued service, as it was prior to 2010.
C/G Leroy Harris
The news that recent neck surgery will force San Francisco center Eric Heitmann to miss a second consecutive entire season prompted a few personnel guys in the league to cite Tennessee interior lineman Leroy Harris as a player who might be catapulted into the group. A fourth-round draft choice in 2007, Harris had only three starts before last season, then started 15 games in '10, but at left guard. Center is the more natural position for Harris, 27, and the fact that one-quarter of the franchises in the league might need a new snapper in 2011 figures to boost his profile.
The former North Carolina State standout is a stout interior blocker who can get out to the second level, and the fact he played guard in 2010 shouldn't detract much from his attractiveness as a center.
There aren't a lot of great free agent options, especially if a team is looking for a younger guy, at center. Carolina's Ryan Kalil has already signed the one-year franchise offer tendered him by the Panthers. Five-year veteran Chris Spencer hasn't lived up to his promise in Seattle, the Seahawks likely won't make a strong effort to re-sign him, and the plan seems to be to replace the former first-rounder with Max Unger. David Baas, who replaced the injured Heitmann in San Francisco, is more a guard. Of the six remaining best unrestricted free agent prospects, four have nine or more seasons of experience. Three have 10 seasons or more.
The Foxsports.com report on Thursday that an AFC team is "very aggressively" sending playbooks to its players is the latest suggestion that clubs are adopting some unconventional methods to communicate with the rank-and-file in violation of the lockout guidelines.
Here's another possibility: An AFC assistant told The Sports Xchange this week that he was party to a conversation just after the draft in which it was suggested that the team distribute playbooks, but with the postdate on the office mail machine manipulated to reflect a date during which the lockout was lifted for four days in late April, when it was legal, albeit temporarily, to talk to players.
Did his team actually carry through with the gambit? "I don't know and I don't want to know," the coach said. "But I wasn't born yesterday, either. I know there's some stuff going on around the league, because (coaching) friends tell me about it."
NFL officials have steadfastly contended that they have investigated such claims and unearthed no shenanigans that would breach lockout rules. Given the lack of success by the Raiders in recent seasons (although the franchise seemed to get things righted a bit in 2010), it might be hard to believe for some that Davis has been a visionary. But for much of his career, he was. And those who know him well insist he still has an excellent knowledge of the game.
The league might consider Al Davis unpatriotic at times, given his numerous legal assaults on the NFL, and his long tenure aptly has been marked a lot of the time by fireworks. Still, it bears mention on this Fourth of July weekend that the Oakland owner will celebrate his 82nd birthday on Monday. Yeah, born on the Fourth of July is one of Davis' many curiosities.
The Raiders haven't been to the playoffs since 2002, when they won the AFC West, and have finished in last place in the division four times in the eight years since, and posted losing records in seven of those seasons. But for all his critics, Davis has been an innovator in the league and, for the media at least, has made the journey a lot more interesting.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.