Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, at a hastily called news conference Thursday, said he expects his quarterback to sign a record-setting deal before next season. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady currently holds the distinction for the NFL's highest annual average salary after agreeing to a four-year, $72 million deal in September.
Manning's deal will not only be richer but also longer.
"I think six years is certainly a possibility, five or six years," Irsay said. "There's not a definitive number that I'm stuck on. You don't know how much longer he can play. You hope that it's five years, maybe six years. Until you get longer down the road, it's really uncertain."
Irsay's comments came two days after the Colts used the exclusive franchise tag to keep the only four-time MVP in league history off the free-agent market. Manning, who turns 35 next month, will not be allowed to negotiate with other teams.
If he plays under the tag next season, Manning would make $23.07 million, 120 percent of his 2010 salary.
Getting a long-term deal done quickly could serve three purposes: lowering Manning's one-year salary-cap number, putting more money in his pocket right away because of large bonuses and giving the Colts room to keep other key players around their star quarterback.
For more than a year, Irsay promised to make Manning the highest-paid player in league history. Apparently, Manning's agent, Tom Condon, now has the proof.
"The contracts out there have been compared, and Brady and him have been sort of tied at the hip," Irsay said. "I've made an offer higher than that contract."
Irsay didn't say how much the current offer is worth.
When will all this be resolved?
Irsay said negotiations were "going well" and reminded fans that he took a similar approach in 2004 -- giving Manning the exclusive franchise tag -- before signing him to a seven-year, $98 million deal in March. The Colts then rescinded the franchise-tag designation.
The sequel could play out the same way.
Although Irsay remains hopeful the sides can work out a deal before the collective bargaining agreement expires March 3, he's prepared for talks to linger into the summer.
"I would like to see something get done before then," Irsay said. "But there's two sides to the negotiations, so either side can only go as fast as the other side. The sooner, the better, yes. But if it doesn't get done before then, we can get things done this summer."
Manning repeatedly declined to comment on his contract situation during the season, and Condon told The Associated Press last month that he expected the sides to reach an agreement, although he didn't establish a timetable.
That's not the only contract issue Irsay is dealing with this winter.
Irsay acknowledged he has opened negotiations to extend the contract of Adam Vinatieri, considered by some to be the best clutch kicker in league history. Vinatieri, running back Joseph Addai and linebacker Clint Session are on a list of Colts players who could hit free agency once the owners and players reach a labor settlement.
Irsay still is trying to decide what to do with safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Sanders signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract after the 2007 season, but injuries have limited him to just nine regular-season games the last three seasons.
"Before March 3, I think we'll probably have some sense on that direction," Irsay said. "Again, there's nothing definitive. We've talked through a lot of different scenarios. I can't say definitively what direction we're going there."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press