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Colts' Saturday stood up for health of fellow players

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ANDERSON, Ind. — For Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, who was portrayed by both sides as playing a key role in reaching a collective bargaining agreement, it was never about the money.

He traveled the country and immersed himself in day after day of painstaking negotiations because he was determined to do his part to protect the bodies and minds of current and future NFL players.

"I want players to walk away healthy from this game," he says. "I don't want them to be crippled. I don't want them to have brain issues. I want them to be productive in society once they leave."

According to Saturday, his recent service on the executive committee of the NFL Players Association made him keenly aware of the devastating toll the game was taking.

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"I have had many men say, 'Look at me. This is a serious issue. This is what I'm going through. This is what my family is going through,'" he says. "Those were very important factors we did not miss.
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"We have young men who play this game who cannot foresee the future, so we need these men to tell us what it's like. At the end of the day, we have to protect the players' long-term health of their bodies and minds, and money doesn't protect them from that.

"Money can help fix some issues, but it can't fix them all."

Given that the sport generated more than $9billion in revenue last season and projections for future growth are excellent, it was always clear there would be enough revenue to satisfy both parties. The matter of shielding those who have no assurance they will walk off the field on any given day was far more complex.

"Nobody leaves this game uninjured. It's impossible," Saturday says. "Everybody is leaving with something."

The issue was how to keep that to a minimum. A sore ankle or knee is one thing. Dementia is another.

In providing critical input to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, Saturday reflected on the years he spent in Indianapolis. He graduated from the University of North Carolina with a business degree and joined the Colts as an undrafted rookie in 1999. He soon became a mainstay on the offensive line.

With superb quarterback Peyton Manning directing the offense, Tony Dungy produced a 92-33 record from 2002 to 2008 punctuated by a Super Bowl triumph to close the 2006 season. Dungy was known for limiting the physical demands on players during training camp with an eye toward the long haul.

His successor, Jim Caldwell, is achieving strong results with the same philosophy. Caldwell took Indianapolis to the Super Bowl in his first season. He guided the Colts to the playoffs again last year. The AFC South champions fashioned a 10-6 mark before they were eliminated by the visiting New York Jets 17-16 in the divisional playoffs.

Caldwell says of the less-is-more approach, "That is being prudent because this game is so physical. You have to take that into account."

As key elements of the new 10-year labor agreement, offseason workouts were reduced. Grueling two-a-day practices during training camp are history. Teams are limited to 14 padded practices during the regular season.

Although successful counterparts such as Bill Belichick relied heavily on two-a-day practices during camp as part of his formula for success with the New England Patriots, Caldwell thinks they are not essential to developing hard-nosed, physical players.

"If you look at the teams Tony coached over the years, they were the toughest teams going," says Caldwell, a former top assistant to Dungy. "They were very physical and very capable teams. In November and December, when you had to make a move and you had to be playing well, his teams were always playing well."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft credits Saturday with the heavily debated elimination of two-a-days, noting how adamant he was on that issue.

"It's hard to like the center for Peyton Manning," Kraft says with a nod to one of the AFC's most contentious rivalries. "I mean, I really like the guy."

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