$99.2M deal includes $34.5M signing bonus

Originally Published: March 2, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The NFL's best player is also its richest player.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has agreed to a landmark $99.2 million, seven-year contract that will pay him a league-record $14.17 million annually.

The deal, which was announced at an news conference, also includes a record $34.5 million signing bonus. It is technically for nine years, but the final two seasons will be voided if Manning, who has never missed a game in his professional career, simply reaches league minimum playing time benchmarks.

"I'm happy to be a Colt for life,'' Manning said after signing the deal. "Everybody's happy, and like I said, I'm just relieved it's over with."

"There was a lot of pressure because we're getting close to the Super Bowl," team owner Jim Irsay told The Associated Press. "If you don't get it done, we're going in a dramatically different direction, and our chances are reduced."

Sources told ESPN.com that the 27-year-old Manning can earn, relatively early in the contract, an additional $19 million in incentives, although Colts officials deny that total. The eighth and ninth years, included for bookkeeping purposes and to protect the Colts against an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, are for base salaries of $1 million each season.

The deal gives Indianapolis much-needed salary cap relief. Since all teams had to be in compliance with the NFL's $80.6 million salary cap by Tuesday's 4 ET deadline, the Colts -- saddled by Manning's record cap charge -- scrambled to renegotiate the contracts of at least a half-dozen veterans. Five veterans also were released outright.

Peyton Manning
Manning

There are any number of methods employed to determine the overall worth of an NFL contract, but by virtually all of the most recognized valuation standards, the Manning deal is clearly the most lucrative in NFL history. His average annual salary will dwarf those in the $100 million deals that quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre and others have signed in recent years.

Irsay told ESPN.com during Super Bowl week that he was prepared to make Manning the highest-paid player in history, but cautioned that Indianapolis might not be able to push the bar too high because of resultant roster ramifications.

The bar, though, has now been moved higher than most experts believed it would be. For agents Tom Condon and Ken Kremer of IMG Football, who have negotiated some of the biggest contracts in NFL history and devised the structure by which most quarterback deals are now done, Manning's represents months of arduous work on a complicated contract.

Beyond catapulting the league's co-most valuable player for 2003 into a new financial stratosphere, completing the contract will allow the Colts to operate in free agency. The Colts designated Manning as their exclusive "franchise" player on Feb. 23, meaning that no other team could negotiate with him but also resulting in a record $18.4 million salary cap charge for the 2004 season.

In privately discussing the moves that might have to be made if Manning did not agree to a long-term contract, Colts officials told counterparts league wide they they might face an "offensive Armageddon" and even mentioned potentially releasing running back Edgerrin James. While some cuts made to create cap room will hurt the Colts' depth, all of the players released were ticketed for an exit from Indianapolis anyway.

Doing the math
The Colts penciled in the numbers of future caps to see the maximum amount of money they could pay quarterback Peyton Manning. The strategy was trying to get years for average.

In the end, the Colts settled on a $14.166 million a year average, highest in NFL history. That got them seven years. With the way the contract is structured, the Colts are able to keep Manning's cap number at roughly 10 percent of the cap. For example, this year's cap is $80.5 million. His cap number this year is $8.3 million.

For the first five years of the contract, Manning will have a cap number at roughly 10 percent of the cap, and roster bonuses in the contract give the team the ability to turn them into signing bonuses to free up cap room in future years.
--John Clayton, ESPN.com

Manning's new contract, however, should permit the Colts to conduct business as usual and to make qualifying offers to their restricted free agents before the deadline. It is believed that, when Manning signs the contract, his salary cap charge for '04 will now be more than halved.

The two sides have been negotiating a new deal off-and-on for months and most NFL observers acknowledged that the Colts backed themselves into a corner by not addressing Manning's contract situation much earlier. Two years ago, it is believed that Colts president/general manager Bill Polian approached Manning's agents about possibly improving the situation, but those talks quickly ceased.

Polian had placed a Monday deadline on finishing a long-term deal, citing the possible necessity for making further player cuts and the need to determine the shape of the Colts' roster if forced to carry Manning's burdensome $18.4 million cap charge.

Negotiations early Monday appeared headed in a positive direction, but then turned sour in the evening. Polian and Condon resumed talks later Monday night and finalized an agreement early Tuesday morning. As usual in such deals, a sense of urgency served as catalyst for heightening the negotiations, as the club couldn't realistically afford to carry such a large cap value for Manning for a second consecutive season. Manning had a cap charge in excess of $15 million for 2003.

There certainly were times, given the natures of Polian and Condon, when the discussions went beyond contentious. Only last week, at the Indianapolis airport, patrons of an airline courtesy club witnessed what might kindly be called an animated exchange between the two men as they discussed Manning's contract during the league's draft combine.

Coming off a season in which he led the Colts to within one game of the Super Bowl, Manning, 27, is the consensus top player in the league.

Manning was chosen first overall in the 1998 draft out of Tennessee. He's thrown for more than 3,000 yards in all six seasons in the league, and only once failed to surpass 4,000 yards. Manning has started 96 straight regular-season games and has completed 2,128 of 3,383 passes for 24,885 yards, with 167 touchdown passes, 110 interceptions and a QB rating of 88.1.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.