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Sports Business

Irsay's promise makes life tough for Polian

February 4, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian may have his most difficult off-season ahead of him. It's always difficult to keep Super Bowl teams together.

Colts’ owner Jim Irsay’s promise this week to make quarterback Peyton Manning the highest paid player in the NFL made Polian's off-season job all that much harder.

Irsay’s sentiment is understandable, but if Manning wants to win more Super Bowls, he may want to defer some of his break-the-bank salary to his supporting staff.

Without that gesture, it’s unlikely Polian, as smart as he is, will be able to keep the likes of Gary Bracket and Antoine Bethea among others who could declare free agency in the not-so-distant future.

Even if 2010 is a year without a salary cap, 2011 and beyond likely will not. If Manning is getting that much money, it won’t be financially possible to keep the rest of the key players in place long term. Maybe not even short term.

Fulfilling Irsay's promise also will hasten Polian's decision on Bob Sanders (who is chipping between $6 million and $8 million annually off the team's salary cap). Shelling out more cash for Manning simply means the Colts won't have much extra cash to gamble on a player, even as good as Sanders, who has an injury-riddled history.

Either way, making good on Irsay’s promise will cost the Colts dearly. In 2004, Manning signed a seven-year $98 million contract. Little brother Eli in August became the NFL’s highest paid player, when the N.Y. Giants agreed to pay him $106.9 million over the next seven years.
While Peyton’s current contract averages $14 million per year, Eli’s averages $15.3 million annually, the highest in the NFL.

League sources said Peyton Manning’s agent will expect the four-time NFL MVP to make $17 million per season. That’s a painful increase for a cost-conscious team with a $101.2 million player payroll this season.

The most immediate concerns will be the guys becoming free agents this off-season. Among those, Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, Marlin Jackson and Charlie Johnson will be the most difficult to retain.

Guys like Bullitt, who is making $460,000 this year and Bethea, who is making $535,000, will likely be looking for a bigger pay day next year.

But Polian has made a career of prospecting the draft and replacing players who want more money with hungry youngsters willing to work for (relatively) cheap.

The extra $3 million or so annually going to Manning ought to make everyone on the roster just a little bit hungrier.

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