INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts still want middle linebacker Gary Brackett on their roster -- just not as their franchise player.
After Wednesday's competition committee meeting at the NFL's annual scouting combine, Colts president Bill Polian told The Associated Press it was unlikely the Colts would use the franchise tag to keep Brackett around next season, though Polian remains hopeful something can be worked out before Brackett becomes an unrestricted free agent March 5.
"We still have about 24 hours to decide what we want to do and we continue to talk," Polian said. "I can't tell you what we'll do one way or the other. But as far as the franchise tag, I would think that we would not use that."
The deadline to place a franchise or transition tag on a player is Thursday afternoon.
Polian's explanation for not using it is simple: Money.
By keeping Brackett, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound defensive captain, with the franchise tag, it would cost the Colts nearly $9.7 million. The transition tag is slightly less, at about $8.4 million.
And even in an uncapped year, that is too much for the reigning AFC champions.
Still, Polian has called re-signing Brackett one of his top offseason priorities. The other is getting a contract extension done with four-time league MVP Peyton Manning though that may have to wait until after the league officially announces there will be no salary cap next season.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and union head DeMaurice Smith are expected to meet again Thursday in Indy to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. Goodell declined to comment on the meetings Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, NFL teams are trying to figure out how to move forward.
In the Colts case, that requires patience.
Brackett's agent, Brian Mackler, said in an e-mail Wednesday that there was nothing to report on negotiations. Polian also declined to characterize the discussions and when asked whether a deal was likely to be completed before Thursday's deadline, he said: "I doubt it. But March 5 is the deadline for us, really."
Re-signing linebackers have never been the Colts' biggest priority.
In past seasons, they have let players such as Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington, Cato June and David Thornton all sign with other teams for bigger deals.
Brackett was the exception, signing a four-year deal worth $10.1 million in 2006. That deal included $3.5 million in bonuses.
But this year may be different.
Brackett has been Indy's starter for the past five seasons, and his understanding of the defense played a major role in the improvement the Colts made last season under new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.
Indy's defensive captain finished second on the team in 2009 with 99 tackles. He also had one sack and one interception.
Off the field, Brackett is active in community work and has become a fan favorite thanks in part to his ability to overcome the odds as an undrafted, undersized linebacker who made it in the NFL.
The question is will that be enough to get keep the soon-to-be 30-year-old in Indy long term?
"We'd like to get it done," Polian said.
The only other Colts player who will be an unrestricted free agent is kicker Matt Stover, who was brought in during the season to replace the injured Adam Vinatieri in October.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press