NFL Free Agents 2012: Colts Can't Afford to Lose Underrated Robert Mathis

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 1: Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Jacksonville Jaguars fumbles the football after being sacked by Robert Mathis #98 of the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on January 1, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 19-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis has played his entire career in the shadow of Dwight Freeney. He's never received the respect he truly deserves because most outside observers tend to attribute his success to the constant double-teams focused on his pass-rushing partner.

Mathis is a free agent at season's end and, if the Colts were to let him walk away, everybody would quickly find out just how effective the Alabama A&M product is in his own right.

He's totaled 83.5 sacks during his nine-year career and has missed less than 10 games due to injury. It's that type of remarkable consistency which tends to get overlooked because Mathis has never had one gigantic statistical season.

What he has done is mastered the art of the strip sack. He has forced 37 fumbles in his career and the vast majority of them came by hitting the opposing quarterback when they least expected it. The momentum that comes from plays like that is game-changing.

Mathis is also a tireless worker. In today's modern age of me-first players and play-when-I-want-to divas, it's refreshing to see a player who gives 100 percent every week. That's why he's been so successful despite never being an elite talent or dominant physical force.

The Colts have a lot of decisions to make during the offseason, led by the quarterback quandary of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck or both. Due to that, it's very possible that Mathis will slip through the cracks and by the time the Colts are ready to talk, he'll be gone.

Whether it's Manning or Luck under center next season, the Colts offense should be improved over this season's debacle. The pass rush has been the only part of Indianapolis' defense which has been respectable in years past and without Mathis even that would begin to struggle.

There definitely appears to be a changing of the guard beginning in Indianapolis with the removal of Bill and Chris Polian, so it will be interesting to see what direction the new regime takes under the guidance of owner Jim Irsay.

If they were smart, re-signing Mathis would be atop their to-do list. An already shaky defense would become downright dreadful without him because the only strength the unit had would be greatly diminished.