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Linebacker Brackett to stay with Colts

INDIANAPOLIS (March 1, 2006) -- The Indianapolis Colts agreed to a multiyear deal with free-agent linebacker Gary Brackett and offered new contracts to tight end Ben Utecht and offensive guard Ryan Lilja.

Brackett, who led the team in tackles last season, was to become a restricted free agent March 3. But his agent said Brackett agreed on a new contract with the Colts, ahead of a March 2 deadline for the team to offer him a one-year tender.

No financial details of Brackett's contract were available. The agents for Utecht and Lilja said they had been given new contracts, but Colts spokesman Craig Kelley declined to confirm the moves.

Brackett is the first of the Colts' three starting linebackers, all scheduled to become free agents, to stay with the team.

"Gary loves Indianapolis and playing for coach (Tony) Dungy and coach (Ron) Meeks," said Justin Fine, Brackett's agent. "It's a winning team and, coming from Rutgers, he understands how hard it is to play for a team that's not winning. He's looking forward to winning a Super Bowl."

Linebacker David Thornton will become an unrestricted free agent if he can't reach agreement on a contract. Linebacker Cato June, who played in his first Pro Bowl this year, would become a restricted free agent, meaning the Colts could match any offer or receive compensation from the team he signed with.

Brackett became a starter for the first time last year and led the team with 131 tackles. He also intercepted three passes and forced Jerome Bettis to fumble near the goal line late in the Colts' playoff loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.

Fine said negotiations sped up the past two days.

"Gary was not their No. 1 priority, but he was a priority after Raheem (Brock) and Reggie (Wayne) got their deals done," Fine said.

Reggie Wayne, the Colts' leading receiver last season, agreed to a 6-year, $39 million contract last week. Defensive end Raheem Brock agreed to a five-year deal last weekend.

But the Colts are still scrambling.

They offered league minimum deals to Lilja, a starting guard, and Utecht, a tight end who saw significant playing time this season. Neither could sign with another team because they do not yet have enough service time in the NFL. By offering Lilja $385,000 and Utecht $310,000, they were able to keep both players on the roster.

The Colts still have 11 unrestricted free agents and six restricted free agents to deal with. The top Colts players on the free-agent market are expected to be Edgerrin James, the team's all-time rushing leader; kicker Mike Vanderjagt; and defensive tackle Larry Tripplett, a key part of the team's defensive line.

Drew Rosenhaus, James' agent, declined to comment on negotiations.

Team president Bill Polian said he hoped to speak with Rosenhaus this week. He is gambling the lack of a collective bargaining agreement could make James more affordable for the Colts.

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