When Peyton Manning signed a seven-year, $99 million deal in March 2004, there was a fair amount of criticism. After adding a Super Bowl title and three more MVPs to his resume, his deal looks like more of a bargain than anything else; especially when you consider Albert Haynesworth is making a cool $100 million.
Now as Peyton and the Colts draw near the end of this contract, both sides must once again find a way to settle on an agreeable dollar value for a player whose value knows no measure. Everything we've heard from both sides indicates this shouldn't be a long, drawn out contract battle. Jim Irsay and Bill Polian have never had a problem with opening up their wallets for players who are clearly worth the money, just ask Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Bob Sanders, Gary Brackett, Kelvin Hayden, and a slew of others who have been rewarded handsomely for their efforts while wearing the blue and white.
Meanwhile, New England faces a similar situation with their franchise player, Tom Brady. He is also slated to become a free agent at the end of the 2010 season, by which point the Patriots will have to pony up some serious coin to keep Brady in Beantown. As Anthony Schoette points out, this could lead to an interesting little arms race to see who can get the bigger contract between the two.
Peyton has earned the right to re-claim the title of the highest paid player in the NFL, but the Colts need to be careful to avoid getting in a tit for tat battle with New England. As important as it is to compensate your best player, everyone else on the team needs to get their fair share as well.
Retaining financial flexibility is especially important in football, because the strengths of the individual are minimized on the gridiron more than any other major sport. As great as Peyton is, the nature of football keeps him from being able to dominate a game in the same way that LeBron James, Sidney Crosby, or Tim Lincecum can dominate a game from start to finish. Every extra dollar Tom Brady receives is one dollar less that they have to spend on signing key players to surround their top player than the Colts have at their disposal.
If the pains of Super Bowl XLIV taught us anything, it's that despite playing at a higher level than any other player in the league, Peyton can't win it all by himself. If the Peyton and the Colts can figure out a way to concede the title of being the highest paid player in the NFL, both sides will be better for it.