If the Colts switch to a 3-4 front - a transition that could be dicey given their defensive personnel, but one with which new coach Chuck Pagano is most familiar - Mathis and Freeney are poor fits. Neither has the bulk to play 3-4 end, and neither has played much in space, so the conversion to 3-4 linebacker would be tough.
Indianapolis could reduce Freeney's cap hit with an extension, but he's going to be 32 later this month, and how much can a club commit to a player of that vintage, and one who might not fit very snugly with future plans?
There are at least two teams, Miami and Buffalo, switching to the 4-3 in 2012, and both will need ends. Many pro scouts in the league feel that Mathis, who will be 31 in about 2 1/2 weeks, had a stronger performance than did Freeney in 2011. Mathis had 9.5 sacks, his eighth season in a row with at least seven.
IF the Colts are truly going to run a hybrid (like Pagano suggested) they'll both fit just fine. If they go to a strict 3-4, they don't. Really though, if you look at Baltimore's D last year (Pagano's only DC year) they ran much more hybrid than they did straight 3-4. You could watch them switch from 4-3 to 3-4 based on the play call and down and distance even with the exact same front 7 on the field.
@Music Man They can still have a home. Especially with nickel packages and what not. I think the new prototype with these kind of guys in a 3-4 was set with Mario Williams. I don't know how much they'd really like it. Most teams that run a 'strict' 3-4 aren't really strict anyways too. They only end up in the 3-4 personnel packages something like a third of the time? I don't remember the exact stats, but NFL posted an article about it awhile back.
Well, the new DC just hired from Purdue seems to be an expert on a 4-3 defense. Makes sense - and looks like we'll keep Freeney and Mathis (pssst, and Peyton! Shhh, yeah, I know I'm crazy.)
What's lost in this whole Manning thing about his salary cap figure and whether it is worth it to keep him is that Freeney's cap number for 2012 is greater than Manning's (per LaCanfora).
@BMS It's a big number but so is Dallas Clark's cap number. Extending Freeney (who had a pretty poor year by his standards) would help solve the problem. Mathis was much better and should get a new deal. What you save on Freeney could save Mathis and then some.
Cutting Clark would free up $4M in cap space. Pushing Freeney's deal out would cost some cash but likely reduce the $19M cap number to something more manageable. Mathis would probably have a back-loaded, incentivized contract. I can see the Colts finding $8-12M in cap from those moves.
@BMS why does that matter? they play different positions. and we arent drafting a de with the #1 pick.