In a move that leaves the Indianapolis Colts without either of their starting cornerbacks from last season, the team on Thursday declined to match the four-year restricted free agent offer sheet that three-year veteran Jason David signed with the New Orleans Saints last week.
The decision by the Colts, which was anticipated, means that David moves to the Saints on a deal worth $16.5 million. The Colts will receive a fourth-round pick, No. 125 overall, in this weekend's draft from the Saints as compensation for signing David.
Indianapolis had seven days to match the offer and Thursday was the deadline. The contract is believed to include total compensation of $6.5 million for the 2007 season and a salary cap charge in excess of $5 million. New Orleans intentionally front-loaded the contract so that the Colts would have a difficult time matching it.
David was the last restricted free agent in the league with a decision pending on an offer sheet. His departure means that four restricted free agents changed teams via offer sheets this spring. Two other restricted free agents were traded.
The Colts lost their other starting cornerback, six-year veteran Nick Harper, when he signed with Tennessee last month as an unrestricted free agent. Indianapolis retained a right of first refusal on David by making him the low-level qualifying offer of $850,000. In hindsight, that offer might have been too low, given the third-year veteran's importance to the club, and the fact the low offer may have invited suitors.
New Orleans has been attempting for two years to upgrade at cornerback, and David is a young, emerging player who will certainly aid the Saints' secondary. Clearly, the Saints, who own three picks in the fourth round of the draft, felt that the compensation for a player like David was more than palatable.
"We are obviously pleased to add Jason to our mix in the secondary," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. "This is a positive addition as we make final preparations for this weekend's draft. Jason is a young, emerging player with his best years ahead of him.''
In three seasons with the Colts, David appeared in 48 games, all as a starter. The former Washington State standout, a fourth-round pick in the 2004 draft, had eight interceptions, 26 passes defensed, 147 tackles, one forced fumble and three recoveries. He was a solid fit for the Colts in their Tampa-2 style defense.
David will start alongside veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie in New Orleans.
Colts officials were very deliberate in studying the David offer sheet before arriving at a resolution on how to handle it, but the expectations from the start were that the defending Super Bowl champions would not match the deal. While David was a key player, the Colts are not a franchise prone to panic. Having to develop two new starting cornerbacks for 2007 may be a daunting challenge, but the Colts, more so than any team in the league, trust their drafts to produce replacement players for them.
Indianapolis has eight draft choices, including three in the fourth round.
In addition, the Tampa-2 defense employed by the Colts places far less premium on the cornerback position than do most schemes. In the Tampa-2, cornerbacks do not have the same degree of coverage responsibilities they face in most defenses.
Indianapolis has three reserves at the position -- Marlin Jackson (first round, 2005), Kelvin Hayden (second round, 2005) and Tim Jennings (second round, 2006) – who have all been groomed for potential starting roles. The Colts can also address the cornerback position in the draft.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Senior writer John Clayton and the Associated Press contributed to this story.