Peyton Manning has always been a team player. Even as he’s gesturing wildly and barking at the latest young receiver to drop one of his passes, there’s never been a hint of an overdose on megastardom. Sure, he’s the NFL comedian, making Saturday Night Live appearances and forcing children into portable washrooms. But despite his endless charisma a selfless quality has remained.
Today we found out that this team attitude extends to his pocket book after Manning finally agreed to a new contract with the Indianapolis Colts, a five-year deal worth $90 million. He turned down a chance to reach the $20 million mark annually and hold the highest yearly salary in NFL history. This contract puts Manning in the same neighborhood in terms of annual value as the five-year, $78.5 million contract Tom Brady signed last September, which is a zip code he certainly deserves.
But the annual value is still less than expected, which is both a reflection of Manning’s attitude, and of the realism expressed by Colts owner Jim Irsay. Manning was one of 14 players given the franchise tag prior to the lockout, and would have played under a one-year contract worth approximately $23 million.
Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post explains that Manning will now make about $10 million less against the cap than he would have under the franchise designation, putting his value for 2011 at about $13 million (Brady makes roughly $13.2 million per year). Irsay took a brief break from reciting song lyrics on his Twitter account to tell us that Manning will receive $69 million over the first three years.
When Manning met with the media yesterday as the Colts filed in for training camp, he said he appreciated that Irsay wanted to make him the NFL’s highest paid player. Then he told Irsay to save his money–or at least a chunk of it–and spending it elsewhere.
From the Indianapolis Star:
“While I appreciate Jim Irsay offering to make me the highest-paid player,’’ Manning told The Indianapolis Star, “I told him I’d rather he save that money and keep whoever it is . . . Joe Addai, Charlie Johnson, whoever that may be.
“I’m willing to take less than they’ve offered if they are going to take that money to keep players we need to keep and go get other players. All I want is for them to have the cap and the cash to keep the players they want to keep and to sign other players.’’
The Colts entered free agency roughly $3 million over the salary cap, and have key pieces like the two players Manning identified (running back Joseph Addai and offensive lineman Charlie Johnson) on the open market. Looking ahead, wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne become free agents next spring. Manning knows this, and he knows that although he’s still playing at an elite level, his championship opportunities may be numbered at the age of 35.
Manning’s comments came after Irsay admitted earlier in the week that squeezing a record setting contract in under the cap could be a delicate dance.
“I’ve offered to make him the highest-paid player,” Irsay said Monday night. “(But) we need people to surround him and to have a chance to win a Super Bowl.”
Widespread reports said the Manning camp was standing firm, and he turned down $20 million and was seeking a contract worth $25 million annually. Those reports were either simply false, or Manning’s agent Tom Condon was testing Irsay’s word, seeing if he was serious about making history with Manning’s deal.
He did make history, just not quite as much history as he could have. When discussing the best quarterbacks in the game, the debate has circulated around Brady and Manning, so having their yearly paychecks reflect that value was only sensible and fair.
But last fall when his extension was negotiated Brady was still under contract, and was due to become a free agent at the end of the season. His leverage was minimal compared to Manning’s, who could have either demanded max dollars over and above the franchise tag, or played out the year and earned the bank-breaking money the Colts wouldn’t pay him on the open market.
He could have crippled the Colts, forcing valuable players to be released or traded to accommodate his contract. The likelihood of Manning leaving was always lower than slim, and despite his cap concerns it’s hard to believe Irsay wouldn’t have given his franchise quarterback any dollar figure he requested.
Manning didn’t make that request, allowing the team he’s spent his entire career with to secure the talent for another championship.