Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay confirmed Friday that the team is still dedicated to signing Peyton Manning to a new contract that will make the quarterback the highest-paid player in NFL history. Irsay said that an offer has been made to Manning and that the two sides are nearing agreement on a five- or six-year deal. Those appear to be the facts, but there may be some interesting tea leaves to read in Irsay’s comments and the eventual parameters of this contract in the context of the overall labor situation.
Irsay has essentially set the timeframe in which the current Colts need to go about the business of winning another Super Bowl or three and in which the team finally needs to start thinking about the future beyond Manning. The five or six years that Irsay expects to ink into Manning’s contract correspond neatly with the owner’s expectation of the quarterback’s shelf life. By signing Manning to an end-of-career pact now, the Colts can plan aggressively for the near-term knowing exactly how much money they have to work with each season beyond Manning’s dollars. They can also start building for the future, maybe beefing up the defense and the offensive line, in anticipation of a quarterback that isn’t as magical as Manning. Such moves wouldn’t hurt Manning’s chances of winning, either.
There is also the matter of how Manning’s new deal is structured. The team is likely to want the contract to be fairly well front-loaded for a couple of reasons. First, they don’t want to be locked into the top of the pay-scale with a 40-year-old Manning if he is no longer the Peyton we know and love. Second, if a lockout robs us of part or all of the 2011 season, it will also diminish player salaries, Manning included. If he’s scheduled to make a quarter of his total money this season and misses half the games due to a work stoppage, the Colts will save big bucks. Manning may also benefit from a front-loaded deal, because NFL contracts are not guaranteed. If he’s *gasp* cut in year four of the new agreement, he loses any remaining dollars.
Based on Irsay’s comments, it looks like Manning and the Colts are working hard to finalize a deal before the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3. There is an offer on the table, and Irsay says that it’s richer thanTom Brady’s record contract, which pays the New England Patriots quarterback the highest annual salary in the league. Given that we eventually have games to watch on Sunday again, it looks like Manning will be set to pursue history with the only professional team he’s ever known. Enjoy the next few years, Colts fans, because we’re continuing to witness a truly historical player toil in our own backyard.