News came this week that the agent for superstar quarterback Peyton Manning, Tom Condon, drove to Indianapolis this week to inform the Colts general manager Bill Polian that there would be no further contract negotiations for Manning during this season. Therefore, Manning's contract will expire at the end of the season, leaving him as the most attractive free agent in the NFL in years, if not ever. Surprising?
A bit, yes. Colts owner Jim Irsay was on record as far back as December in proclaiming that Manning would be the highest paid player in football in what appeared to a short time frame. Obviously, it didn't happen then nor during the long offseason nor after the expected trigger point of Tom Brady completing an extension with the Patriots in August.
Why no deal? Although the Patriots and Brady were able to find a way, Colts president Bill Polian has long found shelter in the labor uncertainty for the future and the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement by which to structure a deal. As to the fact that Polian has completed large extensions with players such as Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea, he would likely respond that those numbers -- while large -- represent change behind the couch compared to what Manning will receive.
While surprising that an A-lister such as Manning is not under contract in a couple months, it is hard to envision a scenario where he is not a Colt. Back in 2004, the Colts also allowed Manning to play out his contract -- that of the top pick in the 1998 Draft -- before rewarding him with the seven-year, $98 million dollar deal with a $34.5 signing bonus that, for that time, rocked the financial world of the NFL.
That scenario may well play out again, depending on the progress of the CBA negotiations.
My sense, however, is that Bill Polian must know one thing about whatever new agreement is forged: that there will continue to be a Franchise player designation allowing the incumbent team to retain rights to one player, essentially keeping that player off the free market. Without that continued rule, Manning could become a "true" free agent without rights being held by the Colts. It is hard to imagine Polian allowing Manning's contract to expire without assurances from the NFL that no matter what is negotiated, the Franchise tag remains. Were Manning to be free without a mechanism to hold his rights given to the Colts and subsequently sign with another team, Polian and Irsay would have to enroll in witness protection in Indiana.
Peyton's place will still be Indianapolis, although this may take a while.