Irsay plans to break bank for Peyton

Updated: February 4, 2010, 10:23 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Negotiations to extend the contract of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will begin in earnest after the season, Colts owner Jim Irsay confirmed on Tuesday, and the new deal is expected to make the Colts' star the highest-paid player in NFL history and to keep him with the franchise for his entire career.

Manning's current deal, the final two years of which have been technically voided, will expire after the 2010 season.

"You know it's going to get done," Irsay said during media day interviews. "I think it's clear, and we'll start on it this summer. That's been the way we do things [to hammer out an extension when a player is entering the final year of his contract]. And it'll be the biggest [contract] in history; there's not much doubt about that."

Irsay has said in the past that Manning will be "a Colt for life," and he reiterated that stance on Tuesday morning.

Manning, 33, signed a contract extension for $99.2 million in 2004, and the deal included a record $34.5 million singing bonus, all of it paid up front. The final two seasons of that contract were voided because Manning met predetermined playing-time incentives, making 2010 the final year of the deal.

The Manning contract, Irsay said, "is the easy one to do, because you know it's going to have to be the highest ever." The Colts' owner noted the "harder deals" are the ones involving good, but less important players, and cited former Indianapolis starters like guard Steve McKinney and linebackers Marcus Washington and David Thornton, veterans whom the Colts could not afford to pay because of the franchise's salary structure, and were forced to sacrifice to free agency.

"It simply comes to one question, and that's replaceability," Irsay explained. "Everything is based on the replaceability factor. You make decisions based on who you can afford to target and keep. ... Other guys you really want to [re-sign] you might have trouble doing it, because of what it costs you, and how much attention they're getting [from other teams in free agency]. We don't have that luxury and we've had to work hard."

Team president Bill Polian said during the season that the club, because it had such high-profile players, often had to determine "how fungible" some players and positions were. But Irsay, who invested about $100 million into the club after his father, Robert Irsay, died in 1997, is prepared to make Manning a very rich man. The younger Irsay, in fact, has dipped into his own wallet in the past to fund the contracts of some key players.

Ironically, the contracts of Manning and New England quarterback Tom Brady are both up after the 2010 campaign. Irsay allowed he will "watch closely" the bargaining on the Brady deal.

"We didn't have the luxury [of not having a salary cap]," Irsay said. "Without one, not having those [constraints], we would have done an incredible job."

There have been some preliminary discussions between Irsay and agent Tom Condon on the Manning deal. Condon, who represents about a dozen starting quarterbacks in the NFL, has a solid relationship with Colts management, and it is difficult to project that a new deal won't be completed.

Last year, Condon negotiated a six-year, $97.5 million contract extension for Eli Manning, with about $35 million in guarantees, that made the New York Giants' star one of the league's highest-paid performers. Depending on the methods of valuation, the highest-paid player in the league with a multiyear contract and based on average compensation per season is Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer, at $16.17 million per year.

Given the salary spiral, his stature in the league, and the likelihood that 2010 will be an "uncapped" season, it is not unthinkable to project that Manning could receive an extension pushing $20 million per year, and with a signing bonus of about $50 million.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.