sports (2007-01)

Peyton Manning could stand to give a little back

Chump Change

by Tony Basilio

He’s a little bit Danny Thomas, Opie Taylor, Dan Marino and a whole lot of Anna Kournikova all rolled into one. The guy who has become synonymous with such catch phrases as “Cut that meat!” needs to take a cut of his own. I’m not talking about the inevitable barbs from the media that are sure to come his way once his Colts are eliminated later this month from the NFL playoffs. It’s time for Peyton Manning the millionaire to show the world that it’s not all about dollars. Winning championships comes down to sense, and common sense dictates that Tennessee’s favorite adopted son give a little back and in the process give himself and ultimately his team a chance.

Back in ’04, Manning became the highest paid player in NFL history, inking a $98 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts. While he got paid (including a $35 million signing bonus), he also cast the die as a loser for life. Manning, the pitchman of all that is good or at least worthy of pitching—at least six multi-million dollar product endorsements—is as overexposed as he is unproductive in the postseason.

This year will be no different for Tennessee’s “Peytron” Saint of the Big Loss. Indianapolis will exit from the postseason, and Manning will inevitably and unfairly have the lovable loser label thrown in his face for another off-season. Truth is, the Colts won’t advance in the postseason because they can’t get off the field defensively. They are brutal on the defensive side of the football because of an NFL mechanism known as the salary cap.

A product of the post-1992 world of NFL football, the cap was put in place to give every team in the league a chance to compete on equal financial footing. Unlike its counterparts in other sports, the NFL actually adheres to some sense of fiscal sanity. Therefore, teams are forced to pick priorities following each season, and the league has become one of 8-8 playoff teams and clubs like the Titans who can rebuild in one draft. Under this system, a team like the Colts, which has seven years and $98 million tied into one player, will not be able to field a competent defense. It’s a choice the Colts gladly made a couple of years back when they rewarded Manning for his brilliant play.

Now it’s Peyton’s turn to put his money where his goose egg is. The choice is very clear. Another meaningless $20 mill or a possible Super Bowl championship? If Peyton Manning wants to win a title (he’s 31 years old), it will have to come in the next couple of years. The window of opportunity for a guy like him who doesn’t move well in his prime can’t be much longer for winning the big one.

Here’s a radical suggestion for Saint Peyt. How about playing for the league minimum for the next couple of years and throwing $8-9 million dollars back in the Colts free agency coffer? What a heroic gesture this would be! Significant, as well, in that the current cap figure for ’07 figures to be just north of $100 million.

Before you cry for Peyton, please understand that while drawing the league minimum of $400,000, he would still be one of the highest paid players in the game. Only the bulk of his money would come from his endorsements. What do DirecTV, ESPN, Gatorade, MasterCard, Reebok, Sprint and Sony add up to anyway? How about $11 million per year. You think St. Peyt could afford to play for the league minimum?

Perhaps if he sacrifices a bit, it will be him instead of former teammate Walt Harris (a pro bowl DB of the Bears) playing deep into this year’s playoffs. Perhaps if he’d taken less during his last trip to the bargaining table, Manning would’ve had Adam Meadows protecting him this year, and it could’ve been him taking his MasterCard, his bottle of Gatorade and his Sprint phone to Disney World.

Does Manning want to be the Montana of Middle America or the Kournikova of the Colts? Kournikova never won anything but certainly looked better in shorts. Manning’s had a tremendous, first ballot Hall of Fame career worthy of acclaim. He was the first surefire No. 1 NFL pick to choose college for his senior season, and now it’s time to blaze a new trail.

As long as Manning remains a financial albatross on the Colts, his words about wanting to win it all ring hollow. While talk may be cheap, building a quality defense in the NFL isn’t. So, give some back Peyton. In the process you may just gain something invaluable in return. We know you’re a champion. Now give some back.

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.