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Colts reach deal with Mathis after buying time with franchise tag

The Indianapolis Colts answered one big question Monday -- just not that one.

Less than 30 minutes after using the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis, the team confirmed it had agreed to terms on a new long-term deal with the Pro Bowl defensive end -- keeping one of the NFL's most feared pass rushing tandems intact. The Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday that the sides agreed to a four-year, $36-million contract.

The move came four days before the Coltsmust make an even bigger decision about quarterback Peyton Manning's future, but keeping Mathis and Dwight Freeney together in Indy was, clearly, one of the team's offseason priorities.

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"First and foremost, we're going to make sure that we put both of those guys in position to make plays," coach Chuck Pagano told reporters during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "I don't think it would be very smart on my part or anybody else's part to make sure that doesn't happen."

Pagano even referred to Freeney and Mathis as game-wreckers.

But there are still questions about where the undersized pass-rushers will fit in Pagano's new defense, which is likely to be a hybrid of his preferred 3-4 scheme and the Colts' longtime 4-3 alignment.

Mathis responded to the deal by writing on Twitter: "Still Bleedin BLUE!!!"

Freeney holds the club record for sacks (102.5), with Mathis second in franchise history (83.5) and their propensity for stripping the ball from quarterbacks has made them a menace to opposing offenses for the past nine seasons. Mathis has 20.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

"Both of those guys (Mathis and Freeney) have been great players and have been for a long time," Pagano said. "Those guys are Colts, through and through, and fully expect to have them here as long as we can."

The 31-year-old Mathis has been with the Colts since the team picked him in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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