INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Mike Adams’ experiences have run the gamut during an NFL career that’s spanned 13 seasons and four teams.
He started a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos and endured four consecutive seasons of double-digit losses with the Cleveland Browns.
He was an integral part of the Indianapolis Colts reaching the AFC Championship game after the 2014 season and is dealing with a second consecutive season that won’t include a trip to the playoffs.
So many highs, so many lows.
And now, so much uncertainty.
Adams is one of eight front-line players who might be playing his final game for the Colts Sunday when they close the season against Jacksonville at Lucas Oil Stadium. Among the team’s unrestricted-free-agents-to-be: Adams, Robert Mathis, Jack Doyle, Erik Walden, Darius Butler, Trent Cole, Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman.
Some undoubtedly will be re-signed. Doyle seems at the top of the list on the heels of his career year: 57 catches, 574 yards, four touchdowns. The catches and yards rank second on the team. He’s been Mr. Reliable in an otherwise wildly erratic season.
For so many others, though, uncertainty prevails.
“I think about (the future),’’ Adams said. “I always think about it. As much as you focus on now and the only thing you can control is now, we all think about our futures.
“We all do, trust me.’’
The future might be especially tenuous for a handful of aging defensive players. Owner Jim Irsay mentioned prior to the season the need for that area to get younger. Adams is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but turns 36 in March. Mathis is the club’s career sack leader, but turns 36 in February. Walden, who leads the Colts with a career-high 10 sacks, is 31. Cole is 34. Suspended linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is under contract next season, but is 33.
Butler might have value as a nickel cornerback/safety in 2017, but turns 31 in March.
Adams is aware of the team’s commitment to fielding a younger defense moving forward.
“Absolutely. It’s a young man’s game,’’ he said. “But like I tell everybody and what I’m looking forward to telling every GM whether it’s (Ryan) Grigson or somebody with another team, stop looking at my bio and look at my tape.
“You can say my age all you want, but look at the productivity. Look at what I’ve done on the field.’’
In three seasons with the Colts, Adams has posted a team-high 12 interceptions. He has no interest in retirement.
“I know I still have more ball in me, whether that’s here or somewhere else,’’ he said. “I definitely still want to play.’’
The most difficult decision figures to involve Mathis.
For so long, he’s been the heart and soul of the Colts. He’s been the foundation and offered leadership in 2012 as the franchise transitioned to general manger Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano. Mathis and wideout Reggie Wayne were two significant holdovers from the previous regime, each re-signing with the Colts during the ’12 offseason.
“I am forever grateful for Robert taking a leap of faith back in 2012 when we came in here and talked about the position change and what he had been doing a long, long time in a 4-3 defense and then moving to an outside linebacker,’’ Pagano said. “It’s a debt I cannot repay and I have the utmost respect for him, not only as a football player, but as a man, father, husband and human being.’’
However, Mathis clearly is on the downside of a career that’s worthy of Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration. His 122 sacks rank 18th in NFL history, but he’s managed just four this season while battling knee, toe and biceps injuries.
For proper perspective on Mathis’ place in Colts’ history, consider he’s in his 14th season. That’s tied with Wayne and Peyton Manning for the second-longest tenure with the team. The only player with the team longer: John Unitas (17).
Mathis understands the nature of the NFL. It’s a production business.
“Yeah, if you don’t do your job and make plays it will answer it for you,’’ he said.
The desire to play still burns.
“Absolutely,’’ Mathis said. “Like I said, I still hate quarterbacks. As long as that hate is still there, I will continue to chase them.’’
Initially, Mathis insisted he couldn’t imagine himself playing elsewhere if the Colts showed no interest in re-signing him.
“No, not at all,’’ he said.
Then, he hedged. He was asked if his options moving forward were to play with the Colts or nowhere in 2017?
“I can’t answer that,’’ Mathis said. “I’m a businessman and off the field, you take care of that. In the locker room, you handle what you can.
“Of course you want to be here. If they decide to move in another direction, you have to conduct yourself as a businessman.’’
Mathis added it’s every player’s dream to start and finish his career with the same team, but conceded “very few guys are able to do it. That just lets you know it’s special.
“You just have to control what you can and hope they want you in the end.’’