Jim Irsay has said recently that he expects to make Peyton Manning the highest paid player in the league. Contract negotiations are expected to start soon. Whenever a major marquee star like Manning begins to negotiate at deal, fans start to clamor for the player to 'take less money'. After all, Manning already accomplished the rare feat of not only scoring a $100 million deal, but actually collecting virtually every cent of it. Combined with his millions from endorsement deals, it's natural to assume he doesn't need the money, and should take less 'to help the team'.
While players do have some leeway to make negotiations smooth and not contentious, the truth is that while it would help the team for Manning to take less money, it might not help his teammates. The truth is that the players union watches the contracts of the biggest stars closely. There is a lot of pressure on key players to score as big a contract as possible. It's not just hubris for the player; it's for the good of all the players. The reason the players union opposes things like a hard cap for rookie salaries is the same reason I have no doubt that Jeff Saturday (the Colts union rep) will remind Peyton that he has an obligation to his brethren to get every dime he can: big contracts raise the tide for all players.
Manning is in a difficult (though enviable!) position. If he takes less money (say $15 million a year) from the Colts, fans cheer, but the other players won't be happy with him. Suddenly, any quarterback in the league who makes more than Manning is overpaid. The Colts gain leverage over every other player on the roster (We can't pay you that much! We only play Manning $15 million!). Certain players, and make no mistake Manning is one, HAVE to aim for being the highest paid guy in the league for the good of all the other players. The Union wants salaries to climb. They thrive on mega deals.
There are moments when the weight of a huge contract has negative repercussions for players on the team. Jake Scott was one of the few players the Colts would have resigned but didn't because of money. Ryan Lilja got cut because $3 million is to much to pay a backup guard. However, guys like Saturday know that because he plays and works with Peyton Manning, he got a new contract last year, whereas he might not have if the Colts had David Garrard taking snaps.
Invariably, when Manning signs his mega deal, people will whine and cry about how much money he makes. For awhile, people foolishly criticized Manning for his 7 year $100 million deal and praised Tom Brady for his 6 year $60 million contract saying that the Patriots would obviously be more competitive because of the 'extra cap space'. The fortune tellers looked into their crystal balls and saw doom for the Colts in 2008, 2009, and 2010 when Manning's cap hit would be between $18-21 million a year. Surely such a number would doom the Colts to having to cut a slew of other players in order to make room for that much money! The Patriots would be able to score big name free agents (Can you image Adalius Thomas in a Pats uniform! They'll be unstoppable!).
Of course we know now that since signing that deal Manning won 3 MVP awards, 2 AFC Championships and a Super Bowl. During that time, I can only think of two or three Colts that were allowed to walk simply because of money (Marcus Washington, Jake Scott, and maybe Darrel Reid). The truth is that players like Manning pay for themselves. The cap was tied in part to revenue, so when players like Peyton Manning drive revenue to the league, they create the extra cap space necessary to pay for themselves.
So, when the Colts finally get the new deal done for Manning, let's not have any boring conversations about how it should have been smaller. You can trust the Colts to be smart with their money, and as for Manning, he has an obligation to his fellow players and teammates to get the best deal he possibly can.
He just being a good teammate.