Theres some good info on Pennington...At first I was against giving him that much money but after reading this and seeing how much more it could cost us in the very near future...I say pay him

(May 24, 2004) -- What were the Indianapolis Colts going to do? Pass on signing their franchise quarterback, Peyton Manning, because they couldn't afford him or that it could possibly upset the balance of talent on the roster. Of course not! He is the Indianapolis Colts for all practical purposes.

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Now, the flip side of the coin is that a Super Bowl victory or two in the near future would help ease the pain of what it actually cost the team to sign a player of Manning's stature. Since Manning came into the NFL, he has received just over $54 million in signing bonuses, which alone equates to $7.7 million per year. Often I refer to the 'ripple effect' of big decisions made throughout the league, whether they are business or athletic in nature. The impact of Manning's new contract, which he signed March 2, 2004, will not just be a ripple effect in the league, but rather a tidal wave. We are just starting to get some whispers about the cause and effect of this deal that averages $14 million a year.

In a sense, every quarterback in the NFL will be impacted by this Manning deal sooner or later as the market value for a superstar QB takes a quantum leap. The careers of good signal-callers around the league will get caught up in the dollars and might even be shortened when they try to bounce around hoping to land a decent payday. Look no further than QBs Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner and Tim Couch for proof of this reality.

But this column is about what teams are to do with players right behind Manning in stature when the club they belong to appears to want to keep them. Here are some questions the Manning deal provokes.

Is the QB market set by the Manning deal? Is there a quarterback out there that deserves more than Manning? Do teams actually have to think about letting their star quarterback go in the name of stopping the money insanity? If you project to 2008, is the QB average salary going to make it close to impossible to have a star at the position and have enough talent surrounding him to win? It's time to take a look at four young quarterbacks who will be most immediately negotiating off the Manning contract and what could happen to the league by 2008 when players like Michael Vick (Falcons) -- and even this year's draft picks Eli Manning (Giants), Philip Rivers (Chargers) and Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) -- will be looking for new deals.

Chad Pennington (Jets), Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks), Jake Delhomme (Panthers) and Tom Brady (Patriots) are four guys who stand to be the most directly influenced by Manning's contract. Pennington, Hasselbeck and Delhomme have expiring contracts this season and Brady becomes a free agent in 2006, but a preemptive strike by the Patriots might have to be considered. I will discuss Brady last because he has the most unique situation.

In my discussions with a few general managers and a few agents, the market for Pennington could be in the neighborhood of $20-plus million to sign and an average of $8-9 million per year. Hasselbeck went to the Pro Bowl this past season and Delhomme took his team to the Super Bowl, so it doesn't appear they are planning to take a back seat to Pennington. Let's look past those achievements and focus on their 2003 production:.

2003 Production
Player Passing yards TD passes QB rating Team record
Jake Delhomme 3,219 (13) 19 (12) 80.6 (14) 11-5
Matt Hasselbeck 3,841 (4) 26 (4) 88.8 (7) 10-6
Chad Pennington 2,139 (24) 13 (21) 82.9 (11) 6-10
League rankings in parenthesis

As you can see, whoever gets a deal first from these three, the other two might be looking for more. As I looked at how complex the contract structure for these players may be and how much more expensive they will be than anticipated last year, I thought I would investigate the feasibility of the use of the franchise tag by the clubs to protect their interest in the players. A team can use the franchise tag on one player, which is the average salary of the top five players at that position.

Here's another big problem that's emerging with the franchise tag. With Manning's deal in the top five, the franchise tag for QBs is just under $10 million and not many teams are going to have the cap space in 2005 to handle that cap hit. I ran the numbers of the top QBs in the league and it is conceivable over the next five years that the franchise numbers for quarterbacks will climb from $9.9 million in 2004 to $11 million in 2005; $12.5 million in 2006; $14 million in 2007; and $15.5 million in 2008.

Manning is scheduled for a cap charge of $15.8 million in 2008 and should be right in the middle of the top five salaries. As one team's salary-cap expert (who agreed with me about my projections) said, "We could franchise tag our QB every year for the next five if we had to, but it would cost us over $60 million and eat up too much cap space." Seattle, Carolina and the New York Jets will have to decide how to get a deal done and how close do they bring the money to Manning's deal. If the early rumors are that some of these quarterbacks want franchise-type money, their teams' decision may come down to, can we afford to do it? And, when should we do it?

Peyton Manning's record contract raises the bar for other top QBs looking to get a new deal.
The one thing that teams can hold over a player's head is the potential for a career-ending injury this season. If that were to happen before a contract extension was in place, the player would lose his leverage. If Hasselbeck, Delhomme and Pennington decide to play the season in the last year of their contracts and perform even better than they did last year, they will establish the rationale to consider them franchise quarterbacks. I don't believe there's an argument that any of these guys are equal to Manning or deserve his contract, but 70 percent of his deal is still close to a $10 million average. This decision by these clubs is way more important than getting their draft picks signed. This is the foundation of each of these clubs going forward for at least the next five years.

The other quarterbacks around the league -- Donovan McNabb (Eagles), Daunte Culpepper (Vikings), Trent Green (Chiefs) and Aaron Brooks (Saints) -- are all tied up in contracts that should prevent them from being in this first wave of responses to the Manning deal. But Titans QB Steve McNair has a different situation. At first glance, he appears under wraps until 2009; in 2004 he has a cap value of $5.7 million, which jumps to $12.6 in 2005 and then goes through the roof in 2006 to $26.8 million, which means he'll be working off the Manning deal in two years. Age and health could be factors for McNair, but time will tell on that.

Brady is a much more complex situation. No one could be happier than the Brady people after the Manning deal was signed. Brady has two Super Bowl championships in the last three years, something Manning doesn't boast. All Brady does is win rings and that's without a Marvin Harrison at wide receiver, and until this upcoming season, he didn't have an Edgerrin James -type player in the backfield.

There is a sentiment among some NFL people that Brady could be worth more than Manning. Brady has thrown 51 TDs in the last two regular seasons, and Manning connected 56 times. Is it any easier to think of the Patriots without Brady than it is to think of the Colts without Manning? Of course, the answer is no. Do the Patriots wait a year? The market is sure to go up with the Hasselbeck and Pennington deals. What if Brady wins another Super Bowl? What if the franchise projections are accurate and the Patriots have to franchise tag him in 2006 and the number is $14 million, can they afford to do that? New England is another team with big decisions to be made as the QB market accelerates at a pace that's hard to comprehend.

We are starting to see glimpses of what teams anticipate in the QB business decisions. When solid veterans are released or when rookies are handed starting jobs before they are ready, it is a very volatile market. If Rich Gannon is let go in Oakland, it will be a true statement that three of the last four NFL MVPs -- Warner and Gannon -- have lost their jobs. Unless a team is absolutely sure that it owns one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, it has to let him go or pay an astronomical amount to keep him.

Right now that's a question a number of teams are asking themselves. Think the easiest decision of these examples is signing Delhomme because he's not in the class of Pennington or Hasselbeck? He led the NFL in postseason passing yardage with 987 and threw for 323 yards, three TDs and no interceptions against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. What if he does that again? Manning is a great quarterback but he only threw for 237 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions two weeks prior to the Super Bowl against those same New England Patriots. You can bet that will come up in negotiations for Delhomme