Behind the Eli Manning deal

My last, and unfortunately lasting, memory of my time in Green Bay was Eli Manning and the Giants outplaying the favored Packers in “Packer weather” that can charitably be described as brutal in the NFC Championship game, then advancing to the Super Bowl, where they would go on to shock the undefeated Patriots.

The Giants won those games due to a synergistic defensive scheme that applied constant pressure and an efficient offense run and led by Manning. I was skeptical about Manning – and may still be – but when he came into Lambeau in subzero weather and played that way in that big a moment, I became a fan.

And so did the Giants. Now there are reports that the Giants and Manning have agreed to a contract extension for six years and $97.5 million, with $35 million guaranteed. Having talked with the parties involved last night, it’s important to point out that the deal is not done yet. It has not been completed and has not been submitted to the NFL for review. So all the numbers being bandied about are based on rumor and speculation. The National Football Post will have accurate numbers soon.

Assuming an extension is worked out, my strong sense is that Eli earned that extension primarily during a five-week stretch from the end of December 2007 to the beginning of February 2008. Once he led the Giants through those five games with a poise, efficiency and leadership reserved usually for the top echelon at the position, including his older brother Peyton, the die was cast. Eli, with two years remaining on his rookie contract at the time, was going to get paid. The only questions were when and how much.

As to the when, I understand why the Giants waited a year, but I can also understand if they regret waiting. I believe they waited because Manning had ultimate leverage with the Super Bowl run fresh in everyone’s mind and the glow of the playoffs upon him. The Giants felt no rush to extend Eli in his highly leveraged position, figuring they might as well wait and see if his performance continued past the Super Bowl radiance. He also had two years left on his contract, so the team had an opportunity to receive good value from that (relatively) reasonable deal he signed as a rookie.

As to why the Giants may have regretted waiting, the market – as it always does – went north last year. Deals for less-accomplished players such as David Garrard, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Cassel raised the bar for all quarterbacks. Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, must have felt great comfort watching players such as these average $10M with $20M guaranteed, as he was representing a player with a much stronger resume. Now we’re about to see how much more the market can bear.

Another factor in the negotiation comparables has to be Matthew Stafford, conveniently also a client of Condon. Stafford’s $12M average and $41.7M guaranteed has been much discussed as an aberration, an atrocity and an abomination, but it is fact. When we hear that veteran players are upset about rookie contracts such as these, there are some veterans who are not upset at all – Eli and Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler. Believe me, the Stafford contract is and will be Exhibit A in all of these negotiations.

Much is being made of Eli Manning’s passer rating, indifferent style, etc., in arguing that he’s not worthy of this contract. It’s likely the Giants never even brought that up. The fact is that he was entering the last year of his contract entering a year without a salary cap, the market had been set with lesser players, and the Giants wanted to secure him for the future. With these facts on the table, and with Matt Cassel recently receiving a “functional guarantee” of $35M from Kansas City, this contract is what can be expected.

The Colts allowed Eli’s brother Peyton to play out his contract before dealing with tense deadline negotiations prior to signing him to a $99M contract with a record $34.5M bonus (that amount in 2004 is still astounding). The Giants have chosen an alternate course with the younger Manning, avoiding the franchise tag scenario as we enter a potentially uncapped year where all bets may be off the table in terms of what could happen.

Again, we will have the true numbers of this contract when they come out. For the moment, Eli is in the last year of his contract making a nice sum of $9.4 million. That amount is about to change -- and change radically. Eli’s coming…

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