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Five-time Pro Bowl DE Mathis plans to retire after Colts' season finale

Five-time Pro Bowl DE Mathis plans to retire after Colts' season finale

INDIANAPOLIS -- When Robert Mathis speaks, the Indianapolis Colts listen. Every time.

It's a right the outside linebacker earned by playing 14 productive NFL seasons - all with the same team, all with the same passion, all with the same penchant for putting quarterbacks on the ground.

So when he finished practice Friday and gathered his teammates, Mathis stood in the center and made his announcement quickly and clearly: Sunday's season finale against Jacksonville will be his last game. He made it official a short time later in an emotional news conference.

"This will be 98's last game," he said.

Mathis had been around long enough to know how fickle the football business can be.

He's seen the Colts let some of his closest friends - Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne and Antoine Bethea - walk away in free agency. He remembers Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison failing to get a call when Indy didn't re-sign him after 2008. And he'll never forget the mind-blowing moment on March 7, 2012 when team owner Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning tearfully announced they were parting ways.

If it can happen to them, Mathis knows it can happen to anyone.

And at age 35, the signs were all there that he could be next big game to hit the street.

After missing 13 games in his first 11 pro seasons, Mathis has missed 19 over the last three, including the entire 2014 season - the first four to serve a performance enhancers suspension for what he claimed was a banned fertility drug, the last 12 after tearing his Achilles tendon.

His stats have taken a hit, too.

From 2004 through 2013, Mathis never had fewer than seven sacks or 35 tackles in a season. Those numbers dropped to seven sacks and 24 tackles in 2015 and four sacks and 22 tackles this season. He's never complained..

So Mathis decided to leave the game on his own terms.

"Rob has nothing more to prove, he's such a damn good football player," kicker Adam Vinatieri said. "He's just a hard-working dude, a silent warrior."

That's how Mathis wants to be remembered. Yes, he can be pithy and poignant, with succinct and strongly worded one-liners, but he'd rather just work.

Not many pass rushers have done it better than the Atlanta native, who almost didn't get a chance to prove himself.

Back in 2003, Mathis remembers many scouts downgrading his draft-day stock because they thought he was too small, too slow and too untested to become a key player in the NFL. Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian and the Colts' scouts valued something else in the undersized Alabama A&M product. It didn't take long to find out they were right.

After Polian traded Indy's 2014 fourth-round draft pick to Houston for an extra fifth-rounder in 2013, he wasted no time selecting Mathis with the 138th overall pick despite coach Tony Dungy's contention the price may have been too steep. Turns out, the Colts got a steal.

"We saw an explosive guy, a game-changing player who we thought could play two positions," Polian said. "You could see it almost from the first time he got on the field. He was quiet - except when he put the uniform on and then everyone knew he was around."

Mathis made sure nobody ever overlooked him again.

His resume includes six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances; two Super Bowl appearances with one world championship; the Colts' career record for sacks (122); the 2013 league sacks title (19½); and his trademark tomahawk chop that has forced a league-high 51 fumbles since 2003.

Numbers only tell part of the tale.

"I think pound for pound, he is probably the best pass rusher ever," Colts linebacker Erik Walden said. "You don't find many guys doing it from both sides. He can line up anywhere and get to the quarterback."

Yet Mathis' contributions inside the team complex go far beyond stats.

Tight end Dwayne Allen calls Mathis a treasure trove of information. Coach Chuck Pagano calls him a model of success. Everyone else calls Mathis captain.

But the most apt description might be this: a winner.

"We wouldn't be sitting where we are today and had the success that we have had over the last five years without that guy," Pagano said. "It's a debt I cannot repay. I have the utmost respect for him, not only as a football player, but as a man, father, husband and a human being. All that he does inside this building and all that he does outside this building for the community, he is a warrior. They don't make them like that.

"I guarantee he has walked in this building every single day for 14 years and walked into that locker room and looked up and saw his nameplate still up there and a jersey number still up there and said, 'I'm going to die before I let somebody take this from me.'"

He just never had to say it aloud - until Friday.

"The game of football," he said, "has been like my best friend."

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

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Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

Jon Gruden doesn’t love offseason restrictions on player-coach interaction. They weren’t so strict when Gruden last coached nine years ago, but the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the new Raiders head coach from extended contact with his players at this stage in the NFL’s downtime.

He has, however, run into several Raiders stopping by the team’s Alameda complex.

Count running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Michael Crabtree among them. Conversations with those talented, yet mercurial players will be key as Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie decide how best to use the salary cap.

Both guys have a long history of NFL production. Both guys are getting up there in age, and have some drawbacks. Both guys can be cut without a salary cap hit.

Gruden had nice things to say about both guys in a Wednesday interview with the Bay Area News Group.

He was asked directly if Lynch will be on the 2018 roster.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.”

Lynch started slow but finished strong, and was the team’s best skill player in the season’s second half. He’s contracted to make up to $6 million in 2018.

Crabtree came up later in a discussion of what he likes on the roster.

“I got to bump into Crabtree,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career.”

Crabtree is coming off a down year following two stellar seasons in Oakland. He had just 58 catches for 618 yards – he still had eight touchdowns – but his targets and snaps decreased the last two weeks. He seemed at odds with the previous coaching staff, a group that was dismissed at season’s end.

Crabtree is set to make $7 million next season, though none of it is guaranteed.

Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

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Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

PALO ALTO – Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie became a father on Super Bowl Sunday. Newborn son Elijah Carrie has been the sole focus these last few weeks, as T.J. learns on the job how to be a dad.

Pardon him if he hasn’t thought much about impending free agency. The 2014 seventh-round pick turned full-time starter has a rookie deal expiring soon, with a raise on the horizon following his best season as a pro.

That’ll come in March. Early February, however, has kept him otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been so busy with my little one, and I haven’t been getting any sleep,” Carrie said Thursday. “Learning how to be a dad has been so engulfing that I haven’t delved into the details of what free agency will mean to me.”

Soul searching wasn’t required to realize his dream scenario. The East Bay native wants to stay in Oakland, with a Raiders team he loved as a kid.

“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a Bay Area guy, a hometown kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. This is a passion for me. I dreamed about playing for the Raiders for such a long time. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish (with the Raiders).”

Carrie wants to work with a new Raiders regime. He visited the team’s Alameda complex on Wednesday and met with new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive assistants. The interaction left Carrie wanting more, furthering his belief that be belongs in Silver and Black.

“Coach Gruden is very energetic,” Carrie said. “He’s a coach that likes to have fun but it a very business oriented guy. There are a lot of things, I imagine, that are going to change, just from the way he has done things. It’s going to be different, but I embrace it. It’ll be very challenging entering into a new regime, but there are a lot of positive factors involved with it.”

The Raiders don’t have many cornerbacks under contract come mid-March. They released David Amerson, and could do the same with Sean Smith later this offseason. Gareon Conley should start at one spot, but everything else is wide-open entering free agency and the draft.

Carrie could find value on the open market after recording 70 tackles and nine passes defensed in 16 starts. He’ll explore his options further next month, before free agency begins in earnest March 14.

“I know March is really when it starts to go down,” Carrie said. “My son will be a little older then, so I can focus more on free agency and make some more decisions.”