When it became apparent that Peyton Manning would be released by the Colts and become a free agent, the initial estimates for his yearly value were in the neighborhood of $12 million. That seemed appropriate given the situation, but no one was fooled.

We knew that desperation and blind optimism would drive Manning’s price up quickly, but we assumed that at least a shred of common sense still existed in league offices, and within the pockets of wealthy men who create other wealthy men by paying them handsomely to win football games.

We’ll never make that mistake again. Manning has now been awarded the most lucrative contract in league history.

It’s absolutely baffling that a healthy Manning was set to be paid $18 million annually in Indianapolis from a $90 million deal, and now a quarterback who’s a year older (36 on Saturday) and is recovering from a severe and unique injury gets $19.2 million per year.

Now, before this meanders down the path of a confused rant/diatribe, let’s maintain a bit of clarity and a sense of calm. I know, I’m struggling with it too, but just stay with me.

At this point, there’s some vital information missing, and we have no idea how much money Manning will be guaranteed per year. That’s crucial, because it was widely expected that the guaranteed money will be kept to a more manageable figure, and money will also be secured through incentives (i.e: Manning must attempt X amount of passes to earn X).

We’ll update this post as those details surface, and right now some small puzzle pieces are already coming together. NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi is reporting that the years in the deal will be paid at a flat rate, meaning the contract isn’t back-end loaded, and Manning will be paid that yearly average of $19.2 million.

That alone is troubling and confusing. The contract is currently structured to keep Manning employed as a Bronco until he’s 41 years old, and the chances of that actually happening are minimal. So the wise strategy from a management standpoint would have been to hide money in the back end, which protects the franchise when Manning inevitably walks away early.

Denver reportedly didn’t do that, and now they’re basing Manning’s performance in September on a handful of workout sessions in mid-March, while promising to pay him more annually than he would have made when he was perfectly healthy. Manning will also be paid significantly more than Tom Brady, who’s sustained the usual bumps and bruises, but he’s still much healthier, and two years younger. Brady’s five-year extension signed in September of 2010 will pay him $78.5 million with $48.5 million guaranteed, which works out to $15.7 annually.

Unless the guaranteed money is low and it therefore minimizes Denver’s risk, this contract is confusing, and it could become a shining example of overzealousness in free agency gone terribly wrong.

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