Clark Happy to Have Long-Term Deal with Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – He hoped it would work out, thought it would work out, and overall, he had a pretty strong feeling things would turn out for the best.
But Dallas Clark didn't know for sure.
So, Clark – the Colts' sixth-year tight end – never assumed in January and early February he would sign a long-term deal, and although he assumed he would be with the franchise next season, he never assumed the Colts would make him part of their core, and ensure his place on the team for the next several years.
And then they did.
Which is one reason Clark is back at the Colts' practice facility this week.
And it's one of the reasons he's smiling.
"I can't imagine playing for another team other than the Colts," Clark said early Friday afternoon as the Colts wrapped up the first week of their 2008 voluntary off-season conditioning program.
"This is home – the community, the people of Indianapolis, the whole Colts organization . . . I couldn't imagine (playing anywhere else). This is a great fit."
Clark, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this past season. A few days before the start of the new league year, the Colts designated him their franchise player, ensuring he would be with the team through the 2008 season.
A day later, the Colts announced they had signed him to a long-term extension.
"I'm very excited," Clark said. "It's one of those things that you understand going in – that the whole thing is business. In the five years I've been here, I've seen a lot of good players go. I know that the Colts didn't want to get rid of people, but sometimes you have to.
"It's one of those things where there's no such thing as 'Guaranteed.' We really didn't know what was going to happen. The dedication to it on both parts, it was just a really smooth process."
Clark said Colts President Bill Polian and Clark's agent, Neil Cornrich, made the process as efficient as possible, and said that because of the franchise tag, he never worried extensively about his immediate future.
"Early on, we always had that franchise tag," Clark said. "It was one of those things where we felt like we were going to be here another year. They came out right away and said, 'We're going to franchise Dallas.' That being said, it was kind of nice, because either we got a contract done or we didn't, but we knew we were going to be here another year. It wasn't one of those true scenarios where if we don't get a deal done we might not be playing here.
"We knew it was either going to be a one-year franchise tag or getting a long-term deal. That took a lot of the stress out. We were able to kind of know we were going to be here for one more year. We wanted to get a long-term done, but we didn't know what the Colts' situation was, but both Neil and Bill did an outstanding job getting it done."
That it got done, Clark said, was something of a humbling experience.
The Colts in recent seasons have approached free agency with the philosophy that re-signing their own players is the priority. Core players such as quarterback Peyton Manning, offensive tackles Ryan Diem and Tarik Glenn, defensive ends Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock, center Jeff Saturday and wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison are among those players who have received long-term contract extensions since Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy's 2002 arrival.
In recent months, Clark, safety Bob Sanders and guard Ryan Diem have signed extensions.
During that same time, the team has opted to not re-sign other key players, and in the last three off-seasons, starters such as guard Jake Scott (Tennessee), cornerback Nick Harper (Tennessee), running back Dominic Rhodes (Oakland), running back Edgerrin James (Arizona), linebacker David Thornton (Tennessee) and linebacker Cato June (Tampa Bay) have not been re-signed.
Being among the players the team opted to re-sign, Clark said, was not a designation he takes lightly.
"It's one of those things that they're a lot of great guys on this team," Clark said. "This is a day and age where teams can't keep a lot of great players and the Colts have done a great job of doing that," Clark said. "It's a credit to (Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy), Bill (Polian) and (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Mr. (Jim) Irsay. You hope you fit in that equation and that's what they see, but that's their job and it's their decision.
"When they did show the interest in keeping me, it's truly an honor."
It's an honor that enabled the Colts to retain a player who has developed into a key part of the offense in five seasons, and a player who had the best season of his career last season.
Clark, who has 179 receptions for 2,234 yards and 25 touchdowns in five seasons, caught a career-high 58 passes – nearly double his previous career high of 30 – last season for 616 yards and 11 touchdowns, each of which also was a career high.
The 11 touchdowns and 58 receptions set franchise records for tight ends.
Clark said he doubts the numbers would be the same with another franchise, and said that was a huge reason he entered the off-season hoping things would work out, and thinking they would work out, even if he didn't know for sure.
"It works, and it's outstanding, because the guys here make me better," Clark said. "I know I wouldn't be the player I am today if I didn't have Peyton (Manning) as a quarterback and if didn't have (former Colts tight end Marcus) Pollard my first two years here to learn everything from and if I didn't have (wide receivers Brandon) Stokley, Reggie (Wayne) and Marv (Marvin Harrison), watching those guys run routes every day.
"Having that core of guys, I'm very fortunate to be here and to be able to fit into this offense. I didn't know what other offense I'd fit in, but I'm glad I don't have to worry about that.
"I know how this system works and what we need to do to win and I'll try to do my part."