Colts, Manning agreement goes under radar

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The Indianapolis Colts signed one of the two most valuable players in the NFL to a long-term contact over the weekend and few outside Indiana seemed to care.

While the news of Peyton Manning(notes) agreeing to a five-year, $90 million deal wasn’t completely ignored (it certainly got some attention), it wasn’t greeted with the World War II headlines of teams signing guys out of prison, or guys who couldn’t pass physicals a year ago or guys who, of late, are best known for their work on Twitter and not in the end zone.

Ho-hum, Peyton Manning isn’t going anywhere. And, as such, neither are the boring old Colts, who are yesterday’s news in the NFL in everything but the win column.

“I can’t tell you what an honor it is to go start-to-finish with the same organization here in Indianapolis,” said Manning, age 35 now and with the team since draft day in 1998. “That is something I have always wanted to do as a rookie coming out.

“I will not play for another team. My last down of football will be with the Colts, which means a great deal to me.”

He went on to say “great deal to me,” “honor” or “privilege” about 100 more times.

Philadelphia is basking in the glow of creating a “dream team” thanks to a slew of roster moves this past week, none bigger than landing free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha(notes). The New England Patriots are being hailed for picking up a couple of aging stars in Chad Ochocinco(notes) and Albert Haynesworth(notes).

And the New York Jets, always impossible to ignore, grabbed Plaxico Burress(notes), just in case they wanted more attention. Even the Jets’ misses are big news.

All three teams are likely to be in the mix come January, so any roster addition is significant. Indy is likely to be in the mix too, of course.

The NFL loves the flashy new thing and Manning and the Colts are anything but flashy or new.

They are steady. They are predictable. They take pride in being mostly boring, rarely speaking out or up. The franchise just re-upped with its Hall of Fame franchise quarterback and yet we saw more coverage when Rex Ryan proclaimed it was time for a snack.

The Colts have been to the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons, including a run of nine consecutive appearances.

And while they lost in the divisional round, at home, to the Jets, they also had a last-minute lead and if not for terrible time out mismanagement, may have had one last shot for Manning. They also played that game with half their skill players out with injuries.

“We lost in such a difficult and frustrating way,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said on the team website. “The Jets are an outstanding football team (but) obviously we felt we should have won that game. Then you start thinking about who you didn’t have and you start thinking about Anthony Gonzalez(notes) and Dallas Clark(notes) and Austin Collie(notes).”

Toss in a series of other key injuries, including losing top running back Joseph Addai(notes) for eight games, and the season was an uphill climb.

“I think you have to remember we never really saw how good this football team could’ve been last year,” Irsay said.

That’s the true significance of getting Manning’s deal done. Few thought he was going anywhere, but by agreeing to $18 million per year, he was a relative bargain. Irsay had suggested a willingness to go well into the $20 million range but Manning wound up signing for the same average salary as New England's Tom Brady(notes).

Manning deserves praise for getting this done painlessly, although we aren’t ready to crown him some hero for agreeing to a lesser deal. Yes, he could’ve gotten more. However, any kind of a hold out or behavior that could be construed as greedy would’ve cracked at Manning's everyman appeal. That’s a reputation that has helped him to one of the most lucrative endorsement careers in sports – one that will continue long after he’s done playing.

So there was real monetary value in settling for a “mere” $18 million per annum.

What it really did for the Colts, however, was free up some cap space to maintain a strong veteran team. Manning counts as just $16 million against the cap this year (he could’ve gone to $23.1 million). Within hours of signing Manning, Addai came to terms.

Irsay likes his team so much, he’s more than willing to stand pat and play it out.

“I know a lot of our fans love the excitement of a big-name free-agent signing,” Irsay said. “The cap room we created was to … keep that core together. I think the blue print is proven.”

Manning needs help. His 2010 campaign was very good by most standards (4,700 yards, 33 touchdowns against 17 interceptions) but it wasn’t a banner year for him.

He was forced into throwing a career-high 679 times, nearly 100 more than any other season. Predictably, his yards per attempts and yards per completion were both down a yard or more. And the Colts needed a four-game win streak to end the season just to make the playoffs.

They made it though. They always make it with Peyton Manning. And, assuming the neck injury that currently has him off the practice field doesn't carry into the season, they’ll be expected to make it again.

Locking up Peyton Manning for five more seasons wasn’t a particularly stunning development in a wild week full of them. So it wasn’t the biggest of news. It was easy to overlook.

That’s the Colts these days though. And that’s fine with them.

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