Is Peyton Manning underpaid?

ESPN studio analysts Tom Jackson and Trent Dilfer said yesterday what I have thought has been obvious for the last three years. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the NFL signal callers.

Yes, better than Brett Favre, Drew Brees and even Tom Brady. Manning and Brady have been held up side-by-side in recent years as the quarterback gold standard. And I have always thought that was ridiculous. Other than being an avid observer of the game for better than 35 years, I have no particular expertise in the game of football or playing the quarterback position.

I did have a pretty embarassing career playing for St. Mark’s in the rough and tumble southside CYO league, but that’s a story for another time.

But in recent years I thought it was pretty obvious that no quarterback has propped up his offense or his team more than Manning.

Does he have good receivers, a super tight end and a very solid offensive line? No doubt. Does he make everyone around him better? It’s difficult to argue against that. Has he had the coaching genius behind him that Brady has all these years? I like Tony Dungy a lot, but I’d have to say no. And I think you could make an argument that Brady has been backed by a better defense for the span of his career than Manning has.

But don’t take my word for it. After all, I’m just a business writer. Jackson and Dilfer, though, are two guys who played the game. And while no one would confuse Dilfer with a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, he did play the position at the pro level. And his analysis of the game seems better than his ability to play it.

I was feeling pretty vindicated at Jackson and Dilfer’s admission, then they took it a step further. They agreed that Manning is not only the best active quarterback, but the best that ever played the game—by a considerable margin.

“When they evaluate [Manning’s] entire career, and you look at all the quarterbacks that ever played this game, I think you’ll have Peyton Manning on one level, then you’ll have all the rest,” Jackson said Sunday following the Colts victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Then Dilfer said something I could sink my teeth into as a sports business reporter. “And I think he’s underpaid,” Dilfer said.

That’s no small claim. Manning’s salary cap number this year is almost $19 million. That’s about 17 percent of the Colts’ entire roster. Manning’s cap number this season is more than $4 million higher than Brady’s, $5 million more than Carson Palmer’s, more than double Ben Roethlisberger’s and more than triple Kurt Warner’s.

Underpaid? Hmmm. I puzzled over that one.

Then I considered what No. 18 did to the Dolphins, Texans, Titans and Patriots this year, just to name a few.

And I concluded that Peyton Manning is a better value than any black Friday door buster. And more productive than all the elves at the North Pole combined.

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