By giving Manning a five-year, $90 million deal (the contract averages $23 million over the first three years of the deal, with $21 million split over the final two), the Colts rewarded the NFL's only four-time MVP for his numerous accomplishments, while also providing the team with the flexibility to re-sign several veteran players. With Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne seeking new deals, and Joseph Addai and Charlie Johnson available on the open market, the cap-friendly pact gives the team an opportunity to keep their core intact in the short-term.
For Manning, the deal puts him on equal standing with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (who signed a four-year, $72 million deal last season) from a compensation standpoint and ensures that he will finish his career as a Colt. Although he fell short of the $20 million average that would have made him the highest-paid player in league history, the contract sets the bar for others at the position.
Now, this enormous contract comes with some risk due to Manning's growing injury history. He's currently recovering from his second neck surgery, and he missed most of the 2008 preseason while recuperating from surgery on an infected bursa sac in his left knee. While he has played in 227 consecutive games, including the playoffs, Manning is 35, and his body is starting to show signs of wearing down after a 13-year career. His courage and toughness certainly isn't in question, but you wonder if he can continue to play at a high level while battling through the numerous bumps and bruises.
Given Manning's value and importance to the team, it is vital that the cap-friendly deal allow the team to beef up its supporting cast and provide him with the best protection available in the pocket. Furthermore, the team needs to add more weapons to alleviate the burden on Manning to carry the offense solely on the strength of his right arm. With more money available to spend, the Colts can add a dynamic runner capable of providing more balance on the ground and possibly add a value-priced receiver to complement Wayne. Defensively, the team can extend Mathis to keep their formidable pass-rushing tandem intact.
The Colts' re-signing of Manning was essential to retaining their title hopes, but their ability to maximize the savings created by his cap-friendly deal ultimately will determine their viability as longterm title contenders.