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Brackett remains Colts' top priority; safeties Bullitt, Bethea tendered

INDIANAPOLIS -- The midnight deadline passed without a deal between the Colts and Gary Brackett. But the team still hopes its defensive captain will stay for next season.

Despite failing to complete a deal before Brackett officially hit the free-agent market, agent Brian Mackler and the Colts' braintrust were continuing to negotiate -- increasing the possibility that the two sides still could reach a deal.

Mackler told The Associated Press in an e-mail, about 2½ hours before the deadline Thursday, that the two sides were "working on it." After midnight, he said there was nothing new to report.

But it was an extremely busy day for the defending AFC champion Colts. They made second-round tender offers to safety Melvin Bullitt and left tackle Charlie Johnson and a first-rounder to two-time Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea.

The Colts also declined to offer tenders to former first-round draft pick Marlin Jackson, cornerback Tim Jennings, safety Aaron Francisco and offensive lineman Dan Federkeil. By not making tenders, those four players now become unrestricted free agents and the Colts wouldn't receive compensation if they sign with another team.

Team spokesman Craig Kelley said during the day that the Colts didn't expect to make any comments about the moves.

While negotiations with Brackett stole the headlines, the Colts also were trying to figure out how best to make another Super Bowl run. It started by making a play for Bullitt and Bethea, last season's starting safeties.

Bullitt has become an increasingly vital cog in the Colts' defense, replacing the oft-injured Bob Sanders. Bullitt made two interceptions to seal victories in 2008, and he wound up fifth on the team with 72 tackles last season with Sanders unable to play in 14 games. Bullitt also made a fourth-down stop against the New England Patriots, giving quarterback Peyton Manning a chance to rally the Colts in the final two minutes. Agent Leonard Roth confirmed the offer in an e-mail.

Earlier in the day, ESPN.com reported that Bethea had been given a first-round tender, a little more than one month after he was selected to play in his second Pro Bowl. Bethea has been a starter since his rookie season in 2006.

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The Indianapolis Star also reported that Charlie Johnson, a versatile offensive lineman who replaced Tony Ugoh at left tackle before the start of the season, had been offered a second-round tender.

Rodney Williams, Johnson's agent, and Adisa Bakari, Bethea's agent, didn't respond to repeated phone messages or e-mails.

Agents for Jennings, Francisco and Federkeil all confirmed their clients hadn't been offered contracts.

The strangest twist to the Colts' day came when versatile defensive lineman Raheem Brock wrote on his Twitter account that he had played his final game with the team.

"It's been real Indy," Brock wrote.

Brock's agent, Kevin Pompey, couldn't confirm that the Colts had made a move with Brock.

Jackson was Indianapolis' first-round pick in 2005, and the Colts debated whether he was better suited to playing cornerback or safety before finally settling on using him at cornerback. In 2008, though, Jackson missed the second half of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He returned in 2009, mostly in nickel situations, before tearing the ACL in his left knee during a November practice.

Jennings primarily played in nickel packages last season and was ninth on the team with 51 tackles. Francisco primarily played on special teams after being claimed off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals in September. Federkeil has been a backup but finished last season on injured reserve after he sustained a concussion.

The Colts didn't make an offer to kicker Matt Stover, who replaced the injured Adam Vinatieri in October. Stover and Brackett were the only two Colts players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.

Indianapolis had five other restricted free agents, including starting defensive tackles Dan Muir and Antonio Johnson, whose status wasn't known.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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