Labor strife putting brakes on long-term Manning deal

February 16, 2011
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What’s taking so long?

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay says he wants to make quarterback Peyton Manning the highest paid player in the National Football League, and you’d think Manning would be happy to oblige.

So why haven’t the two sides signed a deal? After all, they’ve had more than five weeks since the Colts season ended Jan. 8.

While I’m certain Manning wants his fair share, I don’t think he’s trying to break the bank. So why can’t Irsay and team president Bill Polian write up a contract worth a few bucks more than the contracts of Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning and Tom Brady and lock up their all-pro quarterback for the rest of his career?

Here’s why:

Signing a long-term deal before NFL owners and players sign a new collective bargaining agreement could have a devastating impact on the Colts efforts to surround Manning with the supporting cast he needs to win another Super Bowl.

That’s why the Colts slapped the franchise tag (a one-year $23 million deal) on Manning on Tuesday, and why I don’t expect the team to sign Manning before there’s labor peace in the NFL.

The new collective bargaining agreement could have a pretty dramatic impact on the salary cap, an issue lost in all the talk of the two sides being $1 billion apart, an adjusted rookie pay scale and the prospects of an 18-game season.

The Green Bay Packers most recent financial statement reported that player costs during the 2009 season were $161 million, up $22 million, while total operating revenue by comparison was up $10 million. The Packers, which are publicly owned, are the only NFL team to disclose team financials.

The Packers’ situation is being used by team owners like a hammer to pound home their point that player payrolls must be controlled.

If the owners get their wish of doling out a smaller percentage of team revenue to players, that could be a serious hit to the salary cap.

Manning’s large slice of the Colts’ total players salary pie could become extra large if the owners are able to strong-arm the players’ union into signing a contract that is less favorable than the one that expires March 3.

Manning (and his agent Tom Condon) knows a lot more about profit and loss statements, salary caps and collective bargaining agreements than Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson gives him credit for.

He knows another Super Bowl ring could do more for his legacy than the short-term cash of a fat contract.

Manning knows he can’t make a serious bid for another Super Bowl surrounded by a cast of practice squad-quality players. He knows the smartest move is to sit tight right now, and see how this ugly battle between the owners and players union works out.


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