Manning on Tuesday signed the richest deal in team history -- seven years for $98 million -- a decision he believes will give the Colts a better chance to win a Super Bowl.
Manning will receive a $34.5 million signing bonus, the largest in NFL history, and will likely earn $19 million more in roster bonuses.
The NFL's co-MVP said money wasn't the issue; winning was.
"Everybody's happy, and like I said, I'm just relieved it's over with," he said. "I'm looking forward to the 2004 season and look forward to winning next season."
Manning was uncomfortable discussing the money involved, and the price tag was so high it even took Colts officials and Manning's agent, Tom Condon, a couple of hours to agree on the final value.
The money, however, puts him in an elite class of quarterbacks that includes Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe, Green Bay's Brett Favre and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb. Those three all signed deals worth more than $100 million.
Manning's signing bonus is $14 million more than the previous high, paid a year-and-a-half ago to McNabb. More importantly, the new deal gives the Colts more flexibility to sign other players.
Tuesday's agreement will drop Manning's salary cap number to $8.3 million, saving the team more than $10 million against next season's salary cap of $80.6 million.
If a deal had not been reached by March 17, Manning would have counted a league-record $18.4 million against the cap under the franchise tag rule. Manning's base salary for last season was $9.8 million.
Team owner Jim Irsay didn't have many options.
"It put us in a very difficult leverage situation," Irsay said. "If the sun had come up tomorrow and it wasn't done, the tone and direction of this franchise would have been shaken some."
The agreement came just hours before the Colts were prepared to again trim their roster.
|Peyton Manning had the Colts over a negotiating barrel.(AP)|
"There was a lot of pressure, because we're getting close to (making) the Super Bowl," Irsay said. "If you don't get it done, we're going in a dramatically different direction, and our chances are reduced."
Instead, the Colts almost immediately began taking advantage of their new cap relief.
They offered three restricted free agents -- offensive linemen Rick DeMulling and Ryan Diem and cornerback Nick Harper -- first-round tenders of $1.368 million. All three are starters and can sign offer sheets with other teams. The Colts can match any offer and will receive a first-round draft pick if they let the players go.
The Colts also will let starting linebacker Marcus Washington test the market.
But without Manning's signature on a new deal, the situation could have been far worse, and Manning knew it.
"Now we can look ahead and start talking about the draft, getting a couple guys in here that they're interested in that I'm kind of curious about myself," Manning said.
Two days after the Colts' 24-14 loss to New England in the AFC title game, Irsay promised to make Manning the NFL's highest-paid player.
Last year was easily the best of Manning's six-year pro career. He threw for 4,267 yards with 29 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, and he won a playoff game for the first time.
Since the Colts made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft, Manning has become the only quarterback in league history with five straight 4,000-yard seasons. Nobody else has had more than three.
To Irsay, the decision came down to one issue -- winning.
"As a team owner, you either look at dismantling the franchise and being a businessman or saying you want to win and write the check," he said. "I feel when you have the components in place, you definitely swallow hard.
"But Peyton is a great player and he deserves it."