Peyton Manning has long since been regarded as one of the top 2 or 3 QB's in the NFL and as one of the greatest QB's of all time. There are arguments for and against Manning due to his gaudy stats, regular season success, and relative playoff failures. Manning struggled at times this season and was unable to beat the New York Jets in the Wild Card game of the NFL playoffs, only adding fuel to the anti-Peyton sentiment that does exist.
The Colts, however, are not wavering. Despite Manning's age (34 years old and soon to be 35) and purported struggles in the post-season, Colts owner Jim Irsay has stated that he intends to make Manning the highest player in the NFL according to an AP report. Manning and the Colts negotiated during last season but were unable to arrive at an agreement. Many speculated that the CBA was, in part, to blame for the stalled negotiations or that the Colts would be unwilling to open the bank yet again for a 34 year old QB.
Manning's deal that expires this season was signed for $98 million in 2004 which was at the time the largest contract in the NFL. Since then several lesser QB's such as Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb as well as Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger signed deals exceeding $100 million. Vick's contract was obviously voided after his conviction.
While both sides are predisposed to agree upon a contract sooner than later, the one area of negotiations is just how exactly to define "NFL's highest paid". Obviously, in the NFL, contracts are really only guaranteed for the current year excluding guaranteed money included in the contract.
For this reason, it wouldn't be much of a benefit to Manning to base the definition based solely on gross contract value. He could sign a $200 million contract and only collect on a fraction of the value. It also wouldn't make a lot of sense for the Colts to sign him to a contract with $80 million guaranteed as he has roughly 5 Manning-like years left conservatively speaking.
So the compromise just may be to base the "Highest Paid" tag on the average annual salary of the contract. This has been a common practice in order to get contracts in place and has been used with his brother, Eli as well as Tom Brady who signed his extension at the beginning of this season.
Eli, for instance earns $16.25 million per season under his current contract and Brady earns $18 million per season. Manning and the Colts, could, for instance agree to a 4 year, $80 million extension thereby making him the highest paid player in the NFL for the length of his contract as well as limiting the franchise's exposure long-term.
Manning and the Colts have a rare relationship as they have years of experience with each other, share the same goals and philosophies, and want the same thing in the end. Irsay himself elaborated on the relationship the Colts and Manning share during a conversation with the AP:
"I'm not going to get into any specifics in terms of the negotiations, but I've said before this is an unusual situation. It's not a normal negotiation, his legacy and our relationship, it's very unusual. You hope it happens a lot, but it doesn't.
For those who believed the CBA was the stumbling block in the negotiations during the season, it may have been, but the Colts seem poised to finalize a deal even before the new CBA. Irsay also added " I think we're going to have to try to move forward with some things before early March, knowing or not."
Another reason I believe Manning will be "generous" during the contract negotiations and not try to simply maximize his earnings is the Colts' need for flexibility with the roster. I personally believe that Manning had an incredible year with the supporting cast he had around him. The loss to the Jets was definitely not on Manning in my opinion. He knows that the organization needs to have the flexibility with the salary cap in order to re-sign key free agents as well as add key players through free agency and the draft.
As it sits, Manning is the best pure QB in the NFL (in my opinion), but his legacy has taken a significant hit with only 1 Super Bowl and countless remarkable regular seasons only to end in failure early in the playoffs. Brady is typically more highly regarded in terms of legacy due to his 3 Super Bowls and others (Roethlisberger) are quickly catching up as well. Now, I personally discount that a bit because he won those 3 Super Bowls before he was the prolific QB that he is today and he hasn't won in quite some time. Brady and the Patriots have failed just as much as Manning has in the post-season over the past 7 years or so.
But Manning knows that is final legacy will be based on Super Bowl wins and the current Colts roster is far from a championship competitor. I personally believe that the Colts would have won about 5 games last season if not for Manning. Say what you want about him, but I believe he masks more flaws with his team than any other QB in the NFL. I believe he will remain flexible with this contract so as to allow the Colts to maximize their efforts in this and future off-seasons.