Colts, Saturday agree to deal

Updated: February 27, 2009, 9:18 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jeff Saturday isn't leaving Indianapolis.

The three-time Pro Bowl center who was expected to be one of the top centers on the free-agent market suddenly changed plans Thursday, signing a three-year deal that will likely allow the 33-year-old to finish his career with the team that brought him into the league.

Financial terms weren't available, but he is expected to be paid among the top centers in the game. To make the deal work, the Colts put in a lot of money in the contract's first couple years, according to a source.

Saturday's agent, Ralph Cindrich, said the deal was completed just hours before free agents could start signing with new teams.

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What changed things was the salary cap number. It was expected to be $123 million but increased to $127 million Wednesday night, and that gave the Colts more flexibility to re-sign Saturday.

"It looked very dire," Saturday told The Associated Press. "I had made up my mind that we were headed to free agency and until yesterday that was the plan. Then they came up with this deal. I'm extremely excited about continuing the journey and being part of this team."

For the Colts, it was a rare bit of good news in a week filled with players lining up to test the open market.

On Wednesday, the Colts officially released record-setting receiver Marvin Harrison, saving them about $6 million in cap room. Last week, Thomas Mills, the agent for longtime punter Hunter Smith, said his client did not expect to sign before Thursday night's deadline and would test the market.

Other veterans joined the club Thursday. Craig Domann, the agent for defensive end Josh Thomas, told The Associated Press his client would become a free agent, and The Indianapolis Star reported running back Dominic Rhodes would, too. The Associated Press left repeated messages for Rhodes' agent, Todd France, at his office, on his cell phone and through e-mail.

Wednesday morning, it looked like Saturday would join them.

Instead, the Colts and three-time MVP Peyton Manning will have their longest-tenured starter on the offensive line back for three years.

"You never know how everything is going to go," Saturday said. "Maybe you finish the three years and you're done, or maybe you come back as a backup or whatever. But this leaves those options open."

The Colts offered Saturday a one-year deal, which he rejected. Negotiations were stalled until the Colts learned Wednesday night they had another $4 million to work with. So they went back to Saturday and offered him the longer deal he had been seeking.

It didn't take long for Saturday, who began his career as an undrafted free agent in 1999 and started 138 games over the last nine years, to make his decision.

"The one-year deal wasn't in his market value, and the one-year deal would have been catastrophic," Cindrich said. "This one makes him one of the best-paid centers in the league and it's all real money."

Indy also offered one-year tenders to defensive tackle Daniel Muir and running back Lance Ball.

Muir, who was claimed off waivers last season and played in six games, received a $460,000 tender. Ball, who was signed to the practice squad in mid-October and rushed for 83 yards in the regular-season finale, received a $310,000 tender.

Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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