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Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr. not anti-franchise tag as free agency looms

The Indianapolis Colts stud wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. enjoyed his best season as a pro under Shane Steichen in 2023. The timing is advantageous for the 26-year-old, who hits free agency after generating 109 catches for 1,152 yards, career highs and four touchdowns.

Pittman said on Monday that while he loves playing in Indy, he's preparing to hit the open market.

"As of right now until March whatever, I'm still a Colt,'' he said, via FOX 59. "But speaking to the contract stuff, I made it this far so ... I've loved my four years here, but I wouldn't be doing my due diligence if I didn't explore every option and find the best fit.

"I think we want to get a sense of what's out there.''

Last season, the Colts had a big decision with star running back Jonathan Taylor, who had one year remaining on his rookie contract, which led to an event-filled back-and-forth last offseason before the sides eventually struck a new deal.

As is often the case for pending free agents, the Colts could always elect to franchise tag Pittman this offseason. Pittman didn't seem to mind the idea of getting a one-year tender projected to be around $21.664 million, viewing it as a big-money placeholder before a long-term deal.

"The franchise tag, I don't think anybody would be displeased with $23 million,'' he said on Monday, laughing. "The franchise tag is almost like a tag of respect because you get paid like the top-5 of your position.

"But do I necessarily want to play on one? I wouldn't say necessarily no I do not want to play on the tag. You can use that to work on a long-term deal as well.''

The question for Indy is whether they'll spend $20-plus million per year on Pittman. He's an underrated player, but is he a franchise-altering star? Is he a tier below true No. 1s?

Pittman noted that in looking toward free agency if he leaves Indy, he'd like to play in an offense that uses him more as a vertical threat after he averaged just 10.9 yards per reception in four years in Indy -- playing alongside some limited QBs.

"I feel like (the Colts have) allowed me to show what I can do,'' Pittman said. "Obviously, there's aspects of my game . . . that down-the-field throw. It's just what type of offense we were this year. We ran a lot of RPOs and it worked well for us.''

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