ANDERSON, Ind. — Jim Irsay won’t let Peyton Manning walk away from the Colts next season — no matter the cost.
Indy’s owner reiterated Monday that he intends to make Manning the NFL’s highest-paid player even if it takes the prohibitive franchise tag to keep the only four-time MVP in league history in blue and white.
“The bottom line is we’ll get something done and when it happens just depends,” Irsay said during the Colts’ first training camp practice. “I said he’d be the highest-paid player and he may already be if we go with the tag. I’d love to see him be here and break all those records as a Colt.”
Irsay has never been shy about paying top dollar for his best players.
Manning signed his current deal worth $98 million in 2004. Seven other Colts — receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and safeties Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea — have deals worth $27 million or more.
None of those contracts will be as expensive as Manning’s next, and likely last, big NFL payday.
The 34-year-old quarterback already owns a record number of MVP awards, one Super Bowl ring and one Super Bowl MVP Award. He is one of four players to throw for more than 50,000 yards, is third all-time in career TD passes with 366 and holds all of the Colts’ career passing records despite playing in 14 games fewer than the previous career leader, John Unitas.
Irsay said Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, and team president Bill Polian have discussed a contract extension, but the biggest obstacle so far has been the lack of a collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s not going to be easy because there’s probably going to be something that goes back and captures something from the uncapped year,” Irsay said, referring to how this year’s deals could affect future salary cap space.
There’s also no guarantee that a cap or a franchise tag will be included in the next CBA, which is still being negotiated.
Irsay’s hopes hit another potential pothole this week when No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million contract with St. Louis that includes a record $50 million in guaranteed money. Manning received a then-record $34.5 million signing bonus in 2004 after winning his second MVP Award.
Bradford hasn’t even taken an NFL snap yet.
“It’s hard to believe,” Irsay said.
Manning declined to comment about his negotiations or Bradford’s contract on Sunday.
But what the Colts really need Manning’s next deal to provide is financial flexibility — and that may not be possible until the Colts know what they’re dealing with in the CBA.
Manning has helped the Colts several times over his first 12 NFL seasons by redoing his deal to clear cap room so Polian could sign some of Manning’s teammates.
So while Irsay insists he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his franchise quarterback, he also knows that the best deal he could make is something that allows Manning to keep vying for Super Bowl rings.
“It (Manning’s deal) is something that could get done sooner or later, but it’s about making sure we can succeed and putting Peyton with the best players we can,” Irsay said. “We’ve spent tens of millions of dollars, $50 million probably, over the cap. The bottom line is the money gets paid, but it’s important to be able to keep this team together.”