So Peyton Manning leverages his $23 million cap number into a $90 million contract, and the NFL media suddenly confuses him with Mother Teresa.
All we’ve heard and seen the past day or so is how Peyton Manning “took less.” Less than what? Less than what he wanted? Less than what he could have gotten elsewhere? Or less than what owner Jim Irsay had been publicly promising to pay him?
Of course, it’s the latter. Irsay recklessly had been saying for months that Manning’s next deal will preserve his status as the highest-paid player in the NFL. So with the bar set publicly, merely matching Tom Brady’s $18 million annual pay allows Manning to be painted by some in the media as a sure-fire candidate not just for Cantonization, but for canonization.
Though the deal has dropped Manning’s staggering $23 million cap number in 2011, giving Irsay some wiggle room to put players around Peyton, it’ll be interesting to see how much actual wiggle room the deal provides, both now and in every future year.
It also will be interesting to know, given evidence that the 35-year-old quarterback may be beginning to break down physically, just how much of the deal is guaranteed for injury and/or skill. That’s not to say Peyton will get to a point where he lacks a high degree of skill, but at some point between now and 2015 there’s a chance (not a certainty or a probability, but a chance) he no longer will possess skills that merit $18 million per year in pay.
As a practical matter, the full $90 million is guaranteed, as long as Peyton can pass a physical. Based on his comments to the media on Sunday, it’s clear that he fully intends to stick around for every snap — and thus for every dollar.
“I can’t tell you what an honor it is to go start to finish with the same organization here in Indianapolis,” Manning said, via the transcript distributed by the team. “That is something I have always wanted to do as a rookie coming out. Of course, you never know if that is possible but after yesterday it is official that I will be an Indianapolis Colt for my entire career. I will not play for another team. My last down of football will be with the Colts, which means a great deal to me. . . . I am going to finish up my career here, and that means a great deal to me. I am very relieved it is behind me now.”
In other words, Manning won’t be nudged out the door, like Brett Favre in Green Bay or Troy Aikman in Dallas. And Manning won’t face the same take-a-pay-cut-or-take-a-hike ultimatum that ended receiver Marvin Harrison’s career. By not backing the Colts into a corner regarding the total amount of the deal (after he essentially was backed into a corner to lower his sights by public comments from Irsay), Manning essentially has backed the Colts into a corner when it comes to keeping him around for the full duration of the contract.
Though, as Bengals owner Mike Brown reminded us all last week, an NFL contract ordinarily entails only a one-way commitment, the Colts have taken their vows with Manning, for better or worse.
Peyton has said it himself. He will not play for another team. And while it’s an admirable goal for any pro athlete, it’s an easy thing to say right now, given that Manning’s perceived act of charity has preemptively blocked any future effort by the Colts to begin the post-Peyton era before Peyton is ready for it to begin.
Admittedly, that’s a cynical view of the situation. But Manning is smart enough to know that the Colts masterfully used the confluence of a $120 million salary cap, a $23 million cap number, and a nervous fan base to keep him from doing what he did in 2004, when an $80 million salary cap didn’t stop him from taking a deal that paid out, on average, more than $14 million. Thus, Manning also is smart enough to ensure that the Colts will be on the hook for every last cent of his newest deal.