ANDERSON, Ind. – Peyton Manning(notes) has been noticeably absent from talking about the upcoming battle between the players and the owners. That doesn't mean, however, that the NFL's highest-profile player isn't cognizant of his role.
"I stay abreast of the situation and I'm a union guy by all means," the Indianapolis Colts star said Wednesday.
While fellow quarterbacks Tom Brady(notes) and Drew Brees(notes) have become faces of the NFL Players Association by taking formal roles with the union, Manning has resisted that to this point, deferring to long-time Colts union representative Jeff Saturday(notes). Manning said he has turned down a couple of requests from the union to comment on issues related to the upcoming labor battle.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has said on numerous occasions that the goals of the union are best served by the active participation of the league's players. The union worked hard to recruit Brady to help. Manning has been more cautious with his approach.
"Jeff Saturday is our rep and Jeff is on [Commissioner Roger] Goodell's [player] council," Manning said. "He is more in the know than those other guys. So Jeff and I talk a lot and Jeff comes to me with what Dee Smith wants, something that Dee wants me to make a quote on. A couple of things they've come to me with, I actually thought it wasn't as big an issue as something else might be. I don't want to be just making quotes on something every time. You do that and it loses its impact, so I said 'Let me know when you really need me.' … I'm not a rep, I chose not to do that.
"I've talked to my dad about it and he dealt with one strike in '82. But just because I'm not giving a quote everyday as a rep doesn't mean I'm not as fully involved, fully aware of the situation. Between Jeff and [Colts president] Bill [Polian] gives me his ideas on what he thinks is going to happen. So it's behind the scenes a little bit, but I'm as on top of it as I can be."
That doesn't mean that, at the right time, Manning won't play one of the most important trump cards in the pending labor battle – his contract. While one player's contract won't be the deciding factor in the two sides signing off on a new collective bargaining agreement, Manning's insistence on a fair-market deal could threaten potential leverage by the owners.
Numerous agents and athletes around the league say that no player in the history of the NFL has been in a better situation to negotiate than Manning right now. Those same people say Manning's next deal will have a ripple effect. Whatever he gets – and some speculate that he could get $25 million or more a year on a long-term contract – will set the bar for contracts of other quarterbacks and, in turn, other positions.
"Every contract is based on what quarterbacks get," one agent said. "You start with the quarterback and you base what the top guys at the other positions get off that."
While Manning has declined to discuss the specifics of negotiations, he recognizes his role in the overall situation.
"That doesn't cloud my mind, but I believe that all players have a responsibility to each other, to the guys who are coming up for free agency," said Manning, a four-time league MVP. "I do feel there is kind of an unwritten rule to sign a fair contract so that whoever the next quarterback is – be it Brady or Brees or whoever – you don't put them in an unfair position because you did something not up to speed. Quarterbacks, defensive backs, whoever, I do feel it's important, especially because of the franchise tag and the effect that has on other guys."
In other words, for those who think it's a great idea for players to take "hometown" discounts or take less to help the team, that's not the way it's going to work with Manning. The current situation between Brady and the New England Patriots is further proof of why that's a questionable idea.
Brady took what was considered a team-friendly deal (that's how both the team and Brady presented it) in 2005. Now, Brady is upset with how the team has chosen to use that pact. Rather than paying other players to stay, Brady has seen the team try to convince other players to do the same. At this point, Brady is likely unwilling to do another team-friendly deal – which has led to acrimony.
Manning's approach is likely to keep other players in line with the goals of the union. Ultimately, though, if the two sides don't reach an agreement and a lockout takes place, Manning is already formulating a plan to keep the Colts together.
"I've already kind of made plans for next offseason, trying to find a place where we can train," said Manning, going into his 13th year. "Find a high school if there's a March lockout. I think the team that can keep it somewhat together in the offseason can have an advantage as opposed to [the players] saying, 'I'm going to Miami, I'm going to Atlanta, I'll see ya.'
"If we can go over to, like, Carmel High School from 9 to 12 or whatever … so I've already kind of been thinking about it. I think you've got to make those plans now because after the season, it's hard to scrounge guys up. A lockout doesn't mean you get to come by the facility and pick up cleats and footballs. It means a lockout; you're on your own."
Despite what some officials may believe, Manning hasn't taken the attitude that the union is on its own.