Freeney Highest Paid Defensive Player's John Clayton is reporting that Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney has signed a six-year, $72 million contract that makes him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL.

Dwight Freeney won't just be the top-paid defensive player in the NFL after signing his new contract on Friday, he'll be compensated as one of the top players in the league -- period.

According to's John Clayton, the six-year, $72 million contract includes a $30 million signing bonus.

The Colts' top pick in 2002 has posted 56½ sacks during his first five seasons. He's also changed the momentum of contests while forcing opponents to fumble 27 times during his career.

The signing actually gives the Colts some cap relief. Rather than having Freeney on board under a one-year $9.43 million franchise tag contract, the Colts will take a $5.75 million hit this year, saving $3.68 million of cap space they can use elsewhere this year.

Last year, the Colts allowed running back Edgerrin James to leave the team rather than sign him to a huge deal. At the time, James' deal seemed insurmountable for the Colts to match.

One year later, Freeney's deal far overshadows what James received -- a four-year $30 million deal that pays him $25 million over the first three seasons. Freeney will pocket the value of James' entire four-year deal immediately with his $30 million signing bonus and a total of $37.72 million over the first three years.

The speedy defensive end's new deal averages out to $12 million per year while quarterback Peyton Manning's 2004 seven-year deal averages $14 million annually.

But the new contract for Freeney definitely puts him in a compensation bracket usually reserved for the players that who take the snaps from center that he regularly terrorizes during the NFL season.

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