The surest sign that a player has become a success in the NFL is the big 'second contract'.
With the exception of the highest draft choices, most NFL players don't make huge money from their rookie deal. The real payday comes in the second contract.
Yesterday, the Colts signed Melvin Bullitt to his second deal. Let's look at the major second contracts the Colts have handed out since 2002.
Ryan Diem-After the 2004 season, the Colts extended Ryan Diem through 2011. He played very well for most of the contract, but wore down starting in 2009. Still, he gave the Colts many strong years at right tackle, paying off the investment.
Jeff Saturday-He landed a new deal before the 2003 season. His second contract gave the Colts two All-Pro and three Pro Bowl seasons. He's now on his third deal with the club.
Peyton Manning-Signed a 7 year, roughly $95 million deal after the 2003 season. He won three MVP awards and took the Colts to two Super Bowls. I'd say that deal paid off.
Reggie Wayne-Signed a six year deal after the 2005 season. He had never been to a Pro Bowl. He's gone to one every year since signing the deal.
Robert Mathis-After just three years in the league, the Colts signed Mathis to a surprise extension before the 2006 season. He's had nearly 50 sacks and made three Pro Bowls in the five years since.
Dwight Freeney-Freeney signed a huge 7-year extension in 2007. He's gone to the Pro Bowl in three of the four seasons since.
Antoine Bethea-Has only played the first year of his new contract, but was the Colts defensive MVP in 2010, holding the secondary together.
Bob Sanders-The mother of all bad second contracts, Sanders came off a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007 and cashed in. The Colts knew the risk, but the deal was a disaster as Sanders barely played over the course of the next three seasons.
Kelvin Hayden-After the 2008 season, the Colts were faced with the tough decision as to whether to pay a corner big money. They chose poorly. Hayden's long deal will certainly not be completed, and he's played just 20 of 32 games.
Gary Brackett-Brackett got a new deal after the 2005 season. He played at a high level for all four years of his new deal, and earned a third contract before the 2010 season.
Dallas Clark-His extension came after the 2007 season. He responded with career best seasons in 2008 and 2009, making his first Pro Bowl.
Ryan Lilja-Faced with chosing between Jake Scott and Ryan Lilja after the 2007 season, Indy chose Lilja and chose poorly. He battled injuries, missing the entire 2008 season. He was cut after a lackluster 2009 because he was seen as an injury risk.
Raheem Brock-He got a new deal after the 2005 season. He never again produced as many as 4 sacks for the Colts, though it likely wasn't his fault. Brock was asked to play defensive tackle, a position he was ill-suited for. He was an excellent performer and served the team's needs. This isn't the strongest of the second contracts, but given the way Indy chose to use him, it was defensible.
Other Colts have received second contracts (Rhodes, Keiaho, Hagler, ect.), but those were mostly low risk, low many deals.
On the significant contracts handed out in recent years, the Colts have done very well. Of the 13 long-term second deals, 9 have been unqualified successes. Brock's deal was defensible. Lilja's, Sanders', and Hayden's were been mistakes in hindsight. It is important to note that the Sanders and Hayden signings were largely defended at the time.
The Colts have only given Melvin Bullitt a three year deal. If one of those three years is high quality, the contract is justifiable. If two of them are good, it will have been a good a deal.
The Colts receive a lot of credit for drafting well, but they've also made excellent decisions in evaluating their own talent. The players that earn significant second contracts with the team been high producers.