Bill Polian is ready to make a deal with Peyton Manning.
Getting it done in this labor market could still make it tricky.
The Colts president told reporters Monday he was confident Indianapolis would re-sign the four-time MVP before his current contract expires after the 2010 season.
“There’s probably some likelihood that that will happen,” Polian said during Jim Kelly’s charity golf tournament in Batavia, N.Y. “But there’s a lot of work that we can do between then and now to lay groundwork and cover areas that we need to cover and talk about various different structures, and we’ll do that.”
Money is not expected to be the major impediment.
Colts owner Jim Irsay has already said he’ll make Manning the league’s highest-paid player and called the negotiations one of the team’s biggest offseason priorities.
The problem: With an uncapped 2010 season and no collective bargaining agreement to guide teams in 2011 and beyond, Polian must figure out how to structure the deal so it doesn’t leave the Colts at a disadvantage _ and do it almost blindly.
“Everybody’s in the same boat. Players are in the same boat, clubs are in the same boat,” Polian said. “None of us know what’s involved and what the system will be like going forward. When that’s resolved, those other situations will resolve themselves.”
Polian, who helped create the league’s salary cap in the 1990s, has been a master at crunching numbers. The list of Indy players with contract values of $30 million or more include Manning, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, Bob Sanders, Robert Mathis and Kelvin Hayden. Manning, of course, has the richest contract _ $98 million.
Unlike other teams that have struggled to remain competitive with a glut of high-priced stars, Polian has managed to find low-priced help in the draft and in free agency, and nobody can quibble with the results.
Indy has won at least 12 games in a league-record seven straight seasons, made eight straight playoff appearances, played in two Super Bowls and won one.
But the burden for extending that streak falls to the 34-year-old quarterback with the big right arm.
Since Polian took Manning with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, Manning has broken every significant passing record in franchise history and has helped the team go from league laughingstock to league model. He has never missed a start, set an NFL record by winning his fourth MVP Award last season and also earned Super Bowl MVP honors following the 2006 season.
As one of the league’s biggest personalities, Manning also has become an unofficial spokesman for all things NFL _ all things except contract negotiations.
“No update there,” Manning said Friday, after the first day of the team’s mandatory weekend mini-camp. “I’ve never commented in the past on the contract and I’m not going to start now, 13 years into it.”
Manning isn’t the only Colts player who could be affected by the NFL’s labor situation.
Three Pro Bowlers _ safety Antoine Bethea, Mathis and Wayne _ skipped last weekend’s three-day mandatory mini-camp because of contract issues.
Bethea has not yet signed the team’s $2.521 million one-year tender, so he was not required to participate. Mathis and Wayne stayed home because they want new deals. Both have two years left on their current contracts.
Polian acknowledged Saturday, through a team spokesman, that he has spoken with the agents for Mathis and Wayne and explained the predicament Indy faces without a new collective bargaining agreement in place. Everyone in the organization expects those three to report on time for training camp.
“I definitely understand the business side of it,” defensive captain Gary Brackett said. “But I’m very confident that when the time comes, everyone will be here.”
Including Manning, who is in the final year of his deal.
There’s little doubt he will be back in a Colts uniform next season. Polian just has to figure out how to get it done.
“We don’t have an agreement, and we don’t know what the agreement might be going forward. That’s the absolute worst place to be. Now, in our case, we do have some players, including Peyton, whose contracts are expiring after this season,” Polian said. “However you look at it, we’re in uncharted waters. We’re just going to have to wait and see what transpires.”
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