Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is realizing too late the effects of tying up too much money in quarterback Peyton Manning's contract. In a media conference call Monday night, Irsay expressed concern over the difficulty of meeting Manning's contract demands while remaining under the new collective bargaining agreement's $120.1 million salary cap.
"We know when we look at our team we need people to surround him and to have a chance to win the Super Bowl," Irsay said, per Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. "Under the (new) system, you cannot pay a player $25 million. It's just not going to work. You're not going to be able to compete."
Kravitz reports Manning's salary demands are closer to $25 million than the $20 million per year the Colts were rumored to have offered Manning before the lockout. In theory, the exclusive franchise tag the Colts placed on Manning is supposed to give the team the upper hand in negotiations because it forbids other teams from negotiating with Manning.
In reality, Manning has all the leverage in his contract negotiations, and both sides know it. There is no succession plan in place at quarterback, so the Colts are now in the unpleasant position of having to invest long-term in a player whose better days are behind him.
Manning may go down in history as one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but at this point in his career he is a 35-year-old player who has had two neck surgeries and a knee surgery in the past four years. He needs a strong supporting cast now more than ever, but if he gets the contract he wants, a solid supporting cast will be nearly impossible to provide. This year, casualties of a bloated deal for Manning would include running back Joseph Addai as well as offensive linemen Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson
If the Colts commit over one-sixth of the salary cap to Manning, they have less money to pay players at other positions. They'll be forced to watch their best home-grown players walk year after year in free agency to teams who are able to offer more money..
Of course, the Colts have no choice but to accept this grim future. The only other remotely feasible options are either trading Manning this year or letting him walk in free agency in 2012. The problem with both options is no team relies on one player as much as the Colts rely on Manning.
For all intents and purposes, Manning is not only the team's quarterback, but also the offensive play-caller. He has more freedom than any other quarterback in the league in terms of checking out of plays and formations based on what he sees in the defense before the snap. With the departure of longtime offensive coordinator/senior offensive assistant Tom Moore, Manning will bear even more play-calling responsibilities in 2011.
Replacing a quarterback as crucial to his team's success as Manning is not a process that can happen in just one year. The Colts' failure to develop a successor to Manning is the reason they're in such a predicament with his contract right now.
By obtaining Steve Young in 1987 to be Joe Montana's backup, the San Francisco 49ers were able to trade Montana in 1993 without missing a beat. Similarly, the Green Bay Packers' foresight in drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005 to develop behind Brett Favre played a huge role in the Packers' quick ascension to the Super Bowl only three seasons after trading Favre.
Due to the Colts' lack of a backup like Young or Rodgers, Manning's time in Indianapolis won't end nearly as well for the Colts as the ends of Montana's and Favre's tenures did for the 49ers and Packers. Instead, the Colts' post-Manning era is set to resemble the recent track record of the Miami Dolphins, who have had 15 starting quarterbacks and three playoff appearances since Dan Marino retired in 2000.
With numerous question marks on both sides of the ball, now is not the time for the Colts to spend approximately one-fifth of the salary cap on one player. However, because of their failure to plan to replace Manning, the Colts have no other option.