Franklin has high hopes as Colts' core returns

Mar. 15—INDIANAPOLIS — Zaire Franklin speaks in the same manner he plays football — unyieldingly straight forward with no nonsense.

It's helped the middle linebacker set an Indianapolis Colts franchise record for single-season tackles in each of the past two years, and it led to the three-year, $30,26 million contract extension he signed this week.

The previous extension Franklin signed in 2022 was negotiated for a special-teams captain. He felt as though he'd outplayed the deal, and general manager Chris Ballard ultimately agreed.

"I hate to lie to you sometimes, but it was something that we had been working on pretty much since November," Franklin said this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "Just kind of talking through — after last season, I kind of approached them like, 'Hey, something ain't right.' I think definitely credit to Chris, (director of football administration) Mike Bleum, the Irsays and everyone involved pretty much to just handle it.

"I feel like we handled it like professionals. We didn't let anything get too personal. I was able to handle everything pretty straight forward. While it was tough at times, but I think the process went about as good as we thought it could."

Franklin — who had one year remaining on the previous three-year, $10 million deal — is one of nine Colts who have re-signed with the team this offseason.

It's a commitment to continuity from the organization after Indianapolis made a five-win improvement from 2022 to 2023 and fell just short of its first playoff appearance since 2020.

Now, Franklin said, it's time for the longest tenured players to repay that trust and belief.

"To be able to now (be) going into my seventh year with one team, that's rare," he said. "Not many guys that you meet throughout the league have played that long for one team. Now, to be able to share that experience with (linebacker) E.J. (Speed), (cornerback) Kenny (Moore II), Grove (defensive tackle Grover Stewart), Buck (defensive tackle DeForest Buckner), it means a lot.

"But I think at this point now, accolades aside, money aside, it's time for us to put some banners up now. It's time for us to accomplish something. We've got to leave here with something other than good memories."

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2022, Franklin has 346 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 12 pass breakups.

But he's made just two playoff trips — and been part of just one postseason victory — since being drafted in the seventh round out of Syracuse in 2018.

The rush of re-signings this offseason keeps the Colts' core together, and in particular it means the defense will have a lot of familiar faces who have played together for an extended period.

It isn't the kind of shopping spree that makes fans flock to the box office for season tickets. But, in Franklin's mind, it's exactly what this team needs.

"I understand sometimes re-signing your own is not as sexy as people want it to be," he said. "But if you look at it objectively, you'll see Kenny is the best nickel (corner) in the NFL, period. Grover, if not the best, one of the top nose tackles in the league, (Michael) Pittman, top No. 1 receivers in the league.

"Obviously, myself included, these are top players together, and I think it means a lot for us to maintain and keep that in-house. That being said, it's time for us to go get it now."

Franklin has been a part of teams that have run the gamut for preseason expectations.

Indianapolis can't control external opinions, but what should the internal expectation be for 2024?

"I mean, I guess the expectation has to be a division title," Franklin said, "period."


Defensive tackle Raekwon Davis spent four seasons with the Miami Dolphins playing as a two-gap lane clogger.

He signed a two-year, $14 million contract Friday with the Colts and is looking forward to a new role.

In Indianapolis, the 6-foot-7, 325-pounder will have a chance to penetrate more often and act more as a disruptor.

He'll also provide depth behind anchors Buckner and Stewart.

"I just felt like this was the best choice for me," Davis said. "The organization, I feel like they opened their arms up and just let me in. They wanted me here. I feel like playing with Buckner and Grove — I feel like it's a great fit for me. And just learn a different scheme, be in something different."