"No. That's never come out of my mouth. I've never said it to my agent," Manning said, adding that his agent didn't say it either. "It was never said by him, claiming this was the goal."
Manning is playing a strange game of semantics. Of course Manning never said it; that's not his job. And his agent didn't say that being the highest-paid player was the goal. His agent started negotiations looking for a new contract, and the starting point for those negotiations paid him higher than any other players.
This is not a surprising negotiating stance to take from the onset. To keep Manning under the franchise tag in 2016 after his contract runs out, the Giants would have to fork over $23.7 million. It's not a surprise that Manning's side would use that number as a starting point for negotiations. Rodgers makes $22 million per year, so anything above that would surpass Rodgers.
All of the above is premised on the notion that Manning is in the same league as the top quarterbacks in the league. But it's worth asking the question:
Is Manning worth it?
Manning is an extremely tricky case because he has two Super Bowl rings, but a career full of regular-season mediocrity. In our admittedly subjective year-end quarterback rankings, Manning has finished No. 12 and No. 20 in the last two years. He finished No. 11 in ESPN's QBR rankings last year after finishing No. 29 the year before. Over his career, he's usually around tenth in QBR.
We don't believe that wins and losses is the best way to evaluate quarterbacks because football is the ultimate team game. Vince Young has a better career winning percentage than Manning, and no one would ever suggest that Young is a comparable quarterback. With that said, it's hard to ignore Manning's lack of success in the regular season lately.
The Giants have made the playoffs once in the last six years, and usually NFL teams pay a quarterback based on consistent winning. Manning deserves a ton of extra credit for helping the Giants win a Super Bowl title in that lone playoff appearance, but he's led an undeniably mediocre team in the regular season four years running.
Manning has always enjoyed a big advantage on the contract competition because he started out as the No. 1 overall draft pick in an era where No. 1 picks were paid far more money. He established a high salary floor to start his career and has kept up that contractual advantage, even as he's been outplayed by contemporaries Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
It's unfair to compare Manning to highest-paid quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as the table above shows. Rodgers has almost as many league MVP awards (2) as Manning has Pro Bowl nods (3). No one has ever considered Eli Manning a top-five quarterback; that's why he's never received a single vote for the All-Pro team.
Manning's side will argue that quarterback salaries only go up, and that a contract worth more than $20 million per season is the minimum for the right to avoid entering quarterback purgatory. But it's worth considering if Manning, at 34 years old, belongs in the first tier of quarterbacks. Or is he closer to players like Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick?
The Giants will not bother to make that argument. We just don't fault them for blanching at a contract offer that puts Manning in the class of Rodgers and Roethlisberger. He's simply not that good. The Giants happily will pay Manning in the ballpark of players like Tony Romo and Philip Rivers once Manning's negotiating stance changes, even though Manning isn't as good as them, either.
Eli will get paid in the end because that's what happens in these quarterback negotiations. He might just want to sign on the dotted line before another 7-9 season is saddled to his resume.