Bob Sanders on the sidelines during his 2007 NFL Defensive MVP season. (Brent Smith | Reuters)

Jim Irsay tweet:

Bob Sanders to go on I.R. soon…we need the roster spot with so many injuries.

For many Colts fans, one of the biggest hopes for a late-season turnaround was the potential return of veteran safety Bob Sanders. In 2006, an otherwise depleted and porous defense turned things around to lead the Colts to wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Irsay’s tweet suggests that no such magic is in store this season.

The long-term implications of the move is that it is unlikely Indianapolis will retain Sanders and his $7 million salary in the 2011 season. Some will criticize the franchise for holding onto Sanders this long, exclaiming that he inevitably would end up on injured reserve and that keeping him has resulted in one more roster spot wasted in one of the team’s most injury riddled seasons. These criticisms would either be short-sighted in the first instance, when folks were clamoring for Sanders to just go on IR to free up the roster spot early in the season, or taking advantage of 20/20 vision looking back on the season.

The only move to make was to hold onto a player who can entirely change the face of the defense with a healthy return, particularly as injuries continued to mount. A Sanders return could have had the biggest impact on the Colts chances to go somewhere in the playoffs, and no wise management staff throws away that chance preemptively. Now that isn’t going to happen.

Allowing Sanders to depart, instead of paying his big 2011 salary should allow the team to sign Melvin Bullitt to a long-term contract extension. While he has done a fine job filling in for Sanders over the last two seasons, there is little denying that he is not the kind of impact player the 2007 Defensive Player of the year was when healthy. In the end, Sanders’ release will likely make safety another area the team will need to address this off-season.