Irsay and Manning plan to get the job done

<b>INDIANAPOLIS: </b>Colts will keep Manning one way or the other If Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has his way, quarterback Peyton Manning is going to be the team for a long, long time.

With a contract extension hanging in the balance, the question is how Irsay and Manning plan to get the job done.

The Indianapolis signal caller is in the final year of a contract that he originally signed after being selected as the first pick of the 1998 NFL draft. Irsay and team president Bill Polian want to keep him as one of the league's highest-paid players.

"Peyton is going to be with the Colts for the rest of his career," the Colts' owner said earlier this week. "He's being paid at the top of his position and we will continue that forward."

Manning current contract is worth around $46 million, including $11.3 million for the upcoming 2003 season. He is expected to count for $15.4 million against the NFL's $75 million salary cap.

Had he been signed to an extension at the end of the 2002 season, Manning's cap number would have been lowered enough that team might have been able to re-sign unrestricted free agent linebacker Mike Peterson. Peterson has subsequently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"It depends on how we would have restructured (Manning's current contract)," Irsay said. "I don't know if it would have changed it much."

Tom Condon, the quarterback's agent, said that the Colts have not yet initiated discussions about a contract extension.

But Irsay, who doesn't see any reason why a new deal can't be hammered out, wants to begin talks after the draft, which is scheduled for April 26-27.

Polian said he budgeted for Manning's salary cap hit as he made plans for the off-season. And for a very good reason.

"Everyone wants a Peyton," he said. "If you have a chance to get him, (you) take him. And keep him." Irsay readily agrees.

If the two sides can't come to an agreement on a long-term extension before the end of the 2003 season, the team would then most likely keep him as the Colts' "franchise" player. Manning would then receive a one-year contract that would pay him the average of the top five players at his position or he could be paid 120 percent of what he earns this year, whichever is more.

"My hope is that we do an extension," the Colts' owner said. "We know what the top quarterbacks are getting and we want to continue paying him that way. But Peyton is also aware that he can't eat up so much of the cap. Then there's no room left for other players."

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