Despite the ongoing labor battles, it is a minor upset that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady do not have contract extensions by now as camps begin. At the moment, both will become free agents in a matter of months. And, of course, they would be the biggest free agents in the league's history, although neither would make their free agency LeBronesque.
Both the Colts' Jim Irsay and the Patriots' Robert Kraft have publicly stated the importance of their franchise quarterback - with Irsay even anticipating an extension during Super Bowl week --but their actions have not matched their words.
Like many teams, the Colts and Patriots have used the built-in excuse/impediment of the uncertain labor situation as shelter for not acting. While true that it would be better to know the new system prior to the commitment, Manning and Brady - an NFLPA alternate rep - understand the issues and, although will never make the issue public, are aware of lesser players being rewarded with top-of-market deals.
Market to be set by a rookie
We hear much about veterans unhappy with the absurd amounts given to top rookies. In this case, the contract of the first pick in the Draft, Sam Bradford will be Exhibit A in their negotiations. Their camps -- Manning is represented by the same agent as Stafford and Bradford -- will use the expected $45 million expected guarantee to Bradford as a starting point in negotiations.
Manning been there before
As surprising as it is that Manning has not yet been extended, there is history here. The Colts allowed Manning's rookie contract to expire in 2004, placing an $18.4 million Franchise tag on him to give him enormous leverage to negotiate the then-highest contract in NFL history -- by a good distance -- in both guarantee ($34.5 million bonus) and average per year ($14.17 million).
The Colts could do the same thing here, allowing Manning to play out his contract and place the Franchise tag on him next year, assuming the tag is in place. The year-to-year strategy, even with the team's signature player, is something that is probably being discussed. However, the owner has made a public commitment to reward Manning; the only issue becomes how much and for how long.
Contract negotiations are about allocation of risk. At age 27 in 2004, there was little risk to the Colts in rewarding Manning. At age 34 in 2010, there is more concern about future risk.
Brady's quiet dissent
Tom Brady is as skilled on maintaining his strong brand as any pro athlete. He is staying clean here as well, keeping any rumbling of discontent quiet and away from the media.
Brady, as mentioned, is also an alternate union rep, the highest profile player to show interest and commitment to the collective bargaining process. He has a close relationship to the Krafts, but this is business, not personal.
On the other side of the equation, the Patriots withstand player dissent as well as any team in the league. They simply do not react; they do not challenge players nor appease them. Player rumblings are simply ignored, left to twist in the wind without response.
The Patriots love Brady but they, too, are businessmen.
Now these two forces meet. The team will say all the right things about Brady, and Brady won't say anything. I have no inside information on this, but my sense is they are presenting something to Brady that is more short-term in nature than long-term. We shall see.