Peyton Predicament: Part 1

While Eli Manning will be one of the starting quarterbacks next week in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, the biggest decision in the NFL this offseason will involve his older brother and the team that plays in Indianapolis. The Colts will have to decide if their future includes one Peyton Manning, the signature player and face of the franchise for the past thirteen years.

As for the Colts’ other big decision in 2012 -- who to take with the top pick in the 2012 Draft -- they have plenty of time but that's an easy decision: select Andrew Luck, with or without Peyton Manning.

Six weeks before that decision, for Colts owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson, there is this little matter of Peyton Manning and his contract.

There are several layers to this decision that need to be peeled away, and Irsay and Colts must be both prudent and sensitive to Manning.

Contract expirations

In 2011, for the second time in his career with the team, the Colts allowed Manning’s contract to expire. It is curious that the Colts’ allowed the face of the franchise’s contract to lapse, something that has also now happened in New Orleans with Drew Brees. In both cases, the players and agent Tom Condon, frustrated by the pace of the negotiations, decided that they would be better served as free agents.

ICONIrsay, who has let Manning's contract expire twice, has a franchise-defining decision to make.

This was not the first time that Manning’s contract ran out as a Colt. Manning's rookie contract, signed in 1998, also played out. In both 2004 and 2011, the expired contracts were landmark deals -- the largest rookie and veteran contracts in the history of the NFL when negotiated. In both cases, the Colts followed such expiration by placing the Franchise Tag (Tag) on Manning, preventing him from going to the marketplace (which would have caused Irsay and president Bill Polian to enroll in witness protection in Indianapolis:).

The 2011 deal

Soon after the 2011 lockout ended, the Colts negotiated a new contract for Manning. And, like the two previous Manning contracts, it once again set a new standard for top compensation in the NFL.

Looking at the traditional markers for contracts, the deal had a couple twists. The total value of $90 million over five years, an Average Per Year (APY) of $18 million is identical to the APY achieved by Tom Brady a year prior. It was important to Manning at the time to not surpass Brady's APY.

The three-year value of the contract, however, tells a different story. Manning is scheduled to earn – if a Colt for the next two seasons (more below) – a total of $70.2 million over the first three years of the deal, a staggering $23.4 million APY that shatters any existing three-year value for all NFL contracts.

Beyond the five-year and three-year values, the crux of the deal centers on a decision to be made in the next two months that determines the true value of this deal.

Ominous option

The Colts must affirmatively exercise an option clause to continue to have Manning’s services for 2012 through 2015. The window of time for which that option must be exercised is between “two days following the Super Bowl until five days prior to the 2012 League Year.” In calendar terms, the Super Bowl is February 5th; the start of the 2012 League Year is March 13th. Thus, the Colts must exercise the option to keep Manning – or not – in a one month period between February 7th and March 8th.

This option is the crucial clause of Manning’s $90 million contract. And it will shape the Colts (or another franchise) for 2012 and beyond.

Let's look at that option....

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