The Indianapolis Colts placed the franchise tag on quarterback Peyton Manning, securing the rights to their cornerstone player in the short term while working toward a long-term contract.
Colts owner Jim Irsay, who announced the move Tuesday on Twitter, repeatedly has said that he'll make Manning the NFL's highest-paid player. However, Irsay added one caveat: If the team couldn't reach a new deal with the quarterback before free agency started, it would use the franchise tag.
The Colts didn't even wait for that. The then-NFL-record seven-year, $99.2 million contract that Manning signed in 2004 doesn't expire until March 3. Manning also received the franchise tag before signing that deal.
The Associated Press cited a person with knowledge of the negotiations in reporting Tuesday that Manning received the exclusive franchise tag, meaning no other teams can bid for the four-time NFL MVP's services.
Under the tag, Manning would receive $23.07 million, which is 120 percent of his 2010 salary. His pay would rise to $27.64 million in 2012 if he's tagged again, meaning he could receive more than $50 million over a two-year period.
Manning's leverage in contract negotiations is considered to be as strong as any NFL player has ever had. In 13 seasons, Manning has broken every franchise career record for quarterbacks and never missed a start. He also has taken the Colts to the playoffs 11 times, claimed seven AFC South titles in the last eight years, and won two AFC championships, one Super Bowl title and one Super Bowl MVP award.
With Manning under center, the Colts won more regular-season games (115) in the past decade than any team in NFL history.
Manning's first contract, in 1998, was worth more than double the previous record for a rookie deal, signed the previous year by then-St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace. Manning's second contract broke the previous league standard, set by then-Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, by more than $5 million per year.
The Colts made their first formal proposal to Manning three weeks ago. It was an offer that Irsay and Colts president Bill Polian wanted to make last October, but Manning informed the team, through agent Tom Condon, that he didn't want to start negotiating until after the season.
Using the franchise tag on Manning frees up the Colts to work on other players' contracts before the collective bargaining agreement expires next month. The list of Indianapolis' potential free agents includes running back Joseph Addai, kicker Adam Vinatieri, left tackle Charlie Johnson, safety Melvin Bullitt, linebacker Clint Session and defensive tackle Dan Muir.
Irsay has promised "significant" announcements in the coming weeks. But none would be bigger than giving Manning the richest deal in league history in what could be his final NFL contract.
"It's important," Irsay recently said when asked about the emphasis on striking a new deal with Manning. "But it's something that you don't totally control, so I think you have to be prepared to work on your roster while you're doing that. That's a big part of the equation, but I think you have to be able and ready to shape your roster."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.