INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Linebacker Gary Brackett wanted to finish his NFL career where it all started — Indianapolis.
He's getting his wish.
The defensive captain signed a five-year deal hours after he officially became an unrestricted agent. Brackett's new deal is likely to keep the 29-year-old in a Colts uniform the rest of his career.
"Obviously, this is a great place to play and when you get a chance to stay a Colt for life, you usually jump at it," Brackett said during a news conference at the team's complex. "That's why I wanted to do everything within my power to make this my home."
Brackett will reportedly get $33 million, including a $12 million signing bonus, which would easily make him the Colts' highest-paid linebacker in a decade.
The defending AFC champions have rarely rewarded linebackers with big contracts. Since the end of the 2002 season, the Colts have allowed Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington, Cato June and David Thornton — all starters — to leave as unrestricted free agents.
Another starter, Tyjuan Hagler, could be moving on soon, too. The four-year veteran, who finished last season on the injured reserve list with a ruptured biceps, was not offered a contract tender. He becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team and the Colts will not receive compensation. Hagler's agent, Mitch Frankel, confirmed the decision Friday, just before the Colts announced Brackett's signing.
But Brackett was the lucky one.
"Throughout the whole process it was very clear to us in our conversations with Gary and his representatives that Gary's real intent and his true hope was to stay as a Colt," general manager Chris Polian said. "Both parties were able to work toward that end and get that done, and we're very thankful to Gary and his desire to be a Colt."
The two sides worked earnestly over the past week to reach a deal. Indy decided not to use its franchise or transition on tags on Brackett, the Colts' defensive signal-caller, because those numbers were deemed too expensive.
Brackett's agent, Brian Mackler, and the Colts continued to discuss terms over the next week and negotiations continued as the midnight deadline loomed Thursday.
With 2½ hours to go, Mackler wrote that the Colts were still working on a contract. Shortly after midnight, Mackler wrote again there was nothing new to report. A few hours later, the deal was done.
"I actually was up, took a couple of calls," Brackett said. "I knew deep down where I wanted to be and I knew we were close to getting something done; it took a little bit after that (midnight) to secure a deal, but we got something done and we're both happy."
Brackett's signing marked the end of a wild 24-hour period for the Colts, who scrambled to make decisions about what deals — if any — to offer their long list of restricted free agents.
They made second-round tenders to safety Melvin Bullitt and left tackle Charlie Johnson and a first-round tender to two-time Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea.
Indy also declined to offer tenders to Hagler, defensive back Marlin Jackson, a former first-round pick; cornerback Tim Jennings; safety Aaron Francisco; and offensive lineman Dan Federkeil. Those players can now sign with other teams and the Colts would not receive compensation.
Versatile defensive lineman Raheem Brock also wrote on his Twitter account he had played his final game with the Colts, telling fans: "It's been real Indy," Brock wrote.
Brock's agent, Kevin Pompey, could not confirm the Colts had made a move with Brock and Polian did not take questions about it.
The Colts also released backup quarterback Jim Sorgi on Friday. Sorgi's agent, Matt Brei, said the move was a surprise because the team had given Sorgi no indication it was making a move. That leaves Curtis Painter and Drew Willy, both rookies last season, as the only quarterbacks behind Peyton Manning.
Willy was on Indy's practice squad last season and the team announced Friday that it had re-signed Willy.
Aside from extending Manning's contract, Brackett was the team's No. 1 offseason priority.
He started the past five seasons, making more than 100 tackles in all five seasons. He has 674 career tackles, 11 interceptions, five forced fumbles and three recovered fumbles.
Brackett made the team as an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers in 2003 and has emerged as a fan favorite, as much for his ability to overcome adversity and his work in the community as his play on the field — something that made Brackett even more eager to stay in Indy.
"How you're viewed outside of this building, nationally, in the community, that to me is doing it the right way. That means a lot to me," he said. "Guys really take that personal, what we mean, what impact we have in our community, and guys are doing a great job. It means a lot to me to be a part of something I think is going to be long-lasting."