Defensive end Robert Mathis, one of the NFL's most productive pass rushers over the past two years, has reached agreement in principle on a long-term contract extension with the Indianapolis Colts, ESPN.com has learned.
Because of the intricacies of the contract, and how it relates to the recent extension to the league's collective bargaining agreement, the deal likely won't be signed until sometime next week. But sources said Thursday that while there are still some details to be completed, the agreement is a solid one.
Financial terms of the extension were not yet available.
Earlier this spring, Mathis signed a one-year restricted free agent qualifying offer of $2.093 million. Colts officials made clear even then, however, their intentions to pursue a long-term contract extension with the former Alabama A&M standout, and negotiations have been ongoing for several weeks.
Securing a deal with Mathis is critical to the Colts, since standout right end Dwight Freeney is entering the final year of his contract and can be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. The Colts hope to sign Freeney, one of the NFL's premier defenders, to a long-term extension as well, but it has been rumored that the four-year veteran is seeking a deal that would make him the highest-paid player in the league.
Indianapolis officials may be forced to use a franchise designation on Freeney next spring to keep him off the unrestricted free agent market.
Despite averaging about 30 percent of the team's defensive snaps over the first three seasons of his career, Mathis has emerged as an effective pass rusher, and the extension is expected to reward him as one of the NFL's highest paid young ends. Over the last two years, playing primarily as a situational rusher on the left side, Mathis has registered 22 sacks and 14 forced fumbles.
In 2005, despite missing three games with injuries, Mathis had career highs in tackles (40), sacks (11½) and forced fumbles (eight). He was also a standout performer on special teams, a role that is likely to be removed from his job description in 2006.
Mathis, 25, is scheduled to become Indianapolis' full-time starter at left end in 2006 as the Colts revamp their defensive line, as former left end Raheem Brock will move inside to tackle.
At just 235 pounds, Mathis will be one of the lightest defensive ends in the league, and there are some concerns the increased workload may affect his level of play. But coach Tony Dungy said at the team's recent minicamp that coaches will closely monitor his snaps over the course of the season.
A fifth-round choice in the 2003 draft, Mathis has 86 career tackles, 25½ sacks, 17 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and six passes defensed. He has played in 45 games with one start.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.