Manning shows up on time for Colts training camp
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning didn't need the money, and he sure didn't want the title of being the NFL's highest-paid player if it meant losing his teammates.
Nope, all the four-time MVP really wanted was a few more shots at winning a Super Bowl.
On Sunday, Manning, armed with a new five-year, $90 million contract — likely the last of his career, reported to the Indianapolis Colts' training camp with a sense of relief.
"You take a look at things and what's potentially going to happen, and I realized that I've got to have these guys around me,'" Manning said. "I've had that title, if you will, for the past seven years and I appreciate Bill (Polian) and Jim (Irsay) doing that seven years ago. I did everything I could to play like it, and I think there is an extra responsibility that comes with it. If they're going to pay you like the highest-paid player, you better play like it."
Manning has been worth every penny.
Since signing his last contract in 2004, the Colts have not missed the playoffs. Manning has won three MVP awards and led the Colts to two AFC titles, one Super Bowl crown. He now holds NFL records for most MVP Awards (four) and most regular-season wins in a decade (115).
With a resume like that, team owner Irsay and club vice chairman Polian were prepared to break the bank to keep Manning in Indy for the rest of his career.
But Manning said no thanks.
"Peyton called me on Thursday and we had a long talk. He made it clear that the he didn't want to be the highest-paid player in the league, he wanted to put the best possible team on the field and he wanted to finish his career as an Indianapolis Colt," Polian said. "Over the weekend, we worked very hard to make that happen."
While the annual average salary of $18 million per year matches Tom Brady's record, Irsay described the deal as cap-friendly throughout the life of the contract.
Manning will get paid $69 million in the first three years and though his salary cap number this season will be $16 million, that's substantially less than the $23.1 million he would have gotten playing under the franchise tag.
The benefit of saving that money is already paying dividends.
Shortly after Manning agreed to his new deal, the Colts re-signed free agent running back Joseph Addai to a three-year, $14 million contract. Addai is Indy's best blocking back and a key part of keeping Manning upright against the blitz.
The team also redid the contract of right tackle Ryan Diem instead of cutting him.
In addition, the Colts have re-signed unrestricted free agents Melvin Bullitt, Bob Sanders' projected replacement, and kicker Adam Vinatieri to three-year deals. And Sunday, Indy announced it was bringing back defensive tackles Eric Foster and Antonio Johnson, and offensive linemen Kyle DeVan and Michael Toudouze. DeVan started at left guard the last two seasons, while Johnson started at defensive tackle.
"When I said he would be the highest-paid player in the league, it really was symbolic of the respect I have for him," Irsay said. "I told him the thing I love about him is that he hates losing as much as I do and Bill does. I'm happy it's done. He gave us a chance to sign Joseph Addai and the other guys."
Practice is scheduled to begin Monday without Manning, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to rehab from neck surgery in May.
It was the strangest offseason in Manning's 14-year NFL career.
The 35-year-old quarterback had to contend with the longest work stoppage in league history, was part of an antitrust suit against the league and had his third offseason surgery since 2008. He got regular updates on the labor negotiations from NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, and, Manning explained, his rehab might have progressed more quickly if the lockout rules hadn't prevented him from working with the team's training staff.
Manning also had to contend with questions about his comment of intentionally scoring poorly on the baseline concussion test, speculation that he wanted a special exemption to lift the franchise tag before the lockout was settled and more speculation that he wanted $25 million per year.
Manning insisted there was no substance to the rumors.
"We met on Thursday, we talked Friday, we had the deal yesterday and I signed it about 15 minutes ago," Manning said.
A smattering of fans cheered when Manning rolled a suitcase on campus at Anderson University. Later, Manning walked across the street and signed autographs.
The biggest question now is when Manning will return to practice.
Polian said team doctors have told him the healing process should accelerate now that the nerve in Manning's neck is "coming back."
"There is no time table with these types of injuries," Polian said. "It's not like a knee where you can say he'll be back in six weeks or something. You just don't know and to speculate would be foolish."
This is not the first time Manning has missed the start of training camp. He sat out one week in 1998, his rookie season, while negotiating his first NFL contract and missed all of camp in 2008 when he had two surgeries for an infected bursa sac in his left knee. This time, unlike the other two, he showed up on reporting day.
But teammates don't seem to be concerned.
"Unfortunately, we've been down that road before, too," defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "If there's one guy you don't have to worry about rehabbing, that's Peyton."
Manning has started 227 consecutive regular-season and postseason games and he doesn't expect to start missing games now though he will do some light throwing this week.
Not everyone benefited from Manning's deal.
The Colts released starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden in a cost-cutting move. Hayden returned an interception for the game-sealing touchdown in Indy's Super Bowl win and had a cap number of about $9 million this season.
And first-round pick Anthony Castonzo is the only draft pick who remains unsigned.
But Manning did his part to help move things along.
"I think for him, it's all about winning. He wants a winning legacy and he wants to go out a winner," Brackett said. "He could have taken as much money as he wanted, but he didn't do that because he wants to win."