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Colts agree to 3-year, $70 million deal with Michael Pittman Jr., AP source says

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard did everything he could to keep receiver Michael Pittman Jr. off this year's free agent market.

He completed the job Monday.

Two weeks after promising Pittman would be in Indy next season — one way or the other — the two sides negotiated a three-year, $70 million deal with $46 million in guarantees as one of three big signings, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press.

Indy also has re-signed defensive tackle Grover Stewart and linebacker Zaire Franklin, both starters, to new three-year contracts, the person said.

Stewart will get $39 million, Franklin $31.2 million. The person requested anonymity because none of the deals had been announced.

Pittman's deal It was no surprise given Ballard's repeated praise of the receiver's productivity, toughness over the middle and leadership inside the locker room. And at age 26, there's still room for growth, too.

“He wants to win and when you're a good player, part of that is you want the football," Ballard said during the NFL's annual scouting combine. “I don't know if I want to be around a guy that doesn't want the ball. That's OK. There's a way to do it, a right way to do it, but it's one of the things I appreciate about Pitt. The one thing you never have to worry about with that guy is he empties the tank. He absolutely empties the tank.”

Incentives could add another $1.5 million to the deal's total value.

When Pittman last spoke, in January, he said his agent wanted to wait until after the season to resume negotiations.

Ballard, meanwhile, continually said he hoped to complete a fair-market deal with Pittman before free agency officially opens Wednesday. It was Ballard's top offseason priority.

“I know we’re going to have a few free agents you’re all going to want to talk about and I’m probably going to give you the same answer — I would like to have them all back,” Ballard said in January. "But it doesn’t work that way. It’s just the nature of what we do. Pitt is a good football player for us and hopefully he remains a Colt.”

Pittman has 336 catches, 3,636 yards and 15 TDs and 11 carries for 100 yards and four more scores since the Colts drafted him No. 30 overall in 2020.

He's also coming off his best season in Indy. He had 109 receptions and 1,152 yards, both career bests, to go with four TD catches. Pittman became the fourth player in franchise history with 100 receptions in one season while logging his second 1,000-yard season despite missing one full game and part of another following a scary hit that resulted in a concussion and the ejection of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Damontae Kazee.

Still, Pittman wanted to see what he was worth.

“Speaking to the contract stuff, I made it this far so — I’ve loved my four years here," Pittman said at the end of last season. “But I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t explore every option and find the best fit.”

Yet Ballard remained hopeful of reaching a multi-year deal with the former Southern California star and the son of a Super Bowl champion.

The deal assures Indy will keep its three most prominent playmakers — quarterback Anthony Richardson, 2021 NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor and Pittman — together through at least 2026. Richardson was the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s draft.

Last season, injuries limited that trio to only two snaps together.

Taylor opened the season on the physically unable to perform list with a lingering ankle injury.

Richardson only appeared in four games and only finished one because of injuries. He had season-ending shoulder surgery in October and has recently resumed throwing.

Stewart has been a key component to the Colts' run defense in recent seasons. Over his seven-year career, he has 280 tackles, nine sacks, forced one fumble and recovered one fumble. Ballard and Indy coaches believe he's been playing at Pro Bowl level over the past several seasons.

Franklin has ranked among the league leaders in tackles in each of the past two seasons after finally winning the starting job. He finished second last season with 179 tackles despite missing one game with an injury, breaking the single-season franchise record he previously set in 2022 with 167. He also has forced five fumbles, recovered one and has 4 1/2 sacks in his six NFL seasons, all with the Colts.

And Ballard may not be finished.

Pro Bowl cornerback Kenny Moore II, starting safety Julian Blackmon, and running back Zack Moss could all become free agents Wednesday. Moss played a productive role as a backup to Taylor in 2023.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl