Manning Under Pressure

Normally, a headline like that one would refer to the antics of Ryan Diem or Charlie Johnson.

Not today.

Peyton Manning is under some of the most intense pressure of his career, and Jim Irsay has helped place him there.

Manning and the Colts are currently negotiating a new contract that will likely last the duration of his career. As I’ve said before, Manning has a unique responsibility to set a bench mark with his contract. Unfortunately for him, the context of negotiations has shifted.

From when I first wrote about Manning’s contract several things have changed:

1. The NFLPA and NFL have reached a new CBA. Suddenly, the pressure from the union to squeeze the league has lessened. Granted, the NFLPA still wants Manning to get a top flight deal, but the intense ‘you’re doing this for all of us!’ reasoning doesn’t ring quite as true.

2. The salary cap has gone down. Last year, Manning was negotiating in a cap-less environment. Now, not only is there a cap, but it will force the Colts to spend less than before.

3. The lockout has created ill-will between fans and the NFL. I don’t understand what fans have to upset about, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people are rankled over the lockout. Fans are less interested than ever in hearing about a drawn-out contract dispute between the Colts and Manning.

4. Manning had neck surgery in May. Regardless of how serious it is or isn’t, the fact is that there is perception around football that he’s breaking down physically.

5. The threat that the franchise tag might be invalidated because of the CBA fight is gone. Manning has nowhere to go. Moreover, reports that Manning wanted out the franchise tag as compensation for being a named plaintiff in Brady v NFL have painted him in a negative light.

6. The chaos surrounding the coming free agent signing period has created a circumstance where Manning needs to sign quickly so that the Colts can move on to other free agents. Additionally, the Colts will likely not resign several veterans and have to cut others. Now more than ever, the team has the chance to paint Manning into a corner regarding salary. The ‘locker room’ pressures on him are very different now that vets are likely to not be coming back. Granted, those same players (Diem, Addai, Johnson, ect) are likely not coming back regardless of what Manning does, but it won’t feel that way.

And Jim Irsay has done exactly that. His comments have been clear: the Colts aren’t giving Manning a $25 million deal, and he’s being unreasonable to ask for it.

Manning and agent Tom Condon don’t have nearly the leverage morally or practically to hold out for an earth shattering deal that they did 9 months ago. The fact is that a smartly structured deal with Manning could save the Colts as much as $10 million in cap space this season. That money will eventually have to be accounted for, but Manning’s cap figure can rise along with the salary cap in future years. In 2011, the Colts need cap relief and even a mega-deal with Manning can be arranged to provide it in a big way.

It’s not a blitz, but rather a coverage sack that’s coming. All his outs are covered, and now Peyton Manning has little choice but to accept less than what he wants. He’ll still be the highest paid quarterback in league history, but the deal Condon wants for him simply isn’t viable any more. 

We should know soon how hard the Manning camp intends to push. My gut tells me that if a deal isn’t signed soon, Manning may wind up playing for the franchise price of $23 million. There simply aren’t many plays here. He can take the money on the table, or he can roll the dice again and force a bigger deal next year. 

It’s a business move for him, and Colts fans might not like the results.

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