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Franchise label put on Manning


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Sunday, February 22, 2004



By Len Pasquarelli



INDIANAPOLIS -- Running up the white flag of surrender, at least for now, Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian acknowledged the obvious here on Sunday afternoon.



The team will not reach a contract agreement with quarterback Peyton Manning before the Tuesday deadline for designating "franchise" players, and the marker will be placed on the reigning co-most valuable player.



In fact, with no agreement in sight, Polian said Indianapolis officials won't even wait until Tuesday to exercise the "franchise" tag.



"I never expected [negotiations] would go any other way," Polian said. "I'm certain we'll tag him on Monday, and we'll continue to negotiate. The tag is a pro forma situation at this point. This is going exactly as I expected it would."



Manning will become the fourth veteran leaguewide to be designated as a "franchise" player, joining cornerbacks Champ Bailey of Washington and Charles Woodson of Oakland, and St. Louis offensive tackle Orlando Pace.



Polian met with Tom Condon of IMG Football here during the annual draft combine sessions, but Manning's agent returned home on the weekend, and there was very little progress to report. Condon said from his Kansas City home Sunday evening that he did not know when the contract talks might resume.



Because the Colts will apply the "franchise" tag, there is no immediate urgency to complete a long-term deal, although some practical deadlines will loom early next month.



All teams must be in compliance with the NFL spending limit of about $80.5 million by March 3 and, with Manning set to count $18.3 million against the cap because of the "franchise" tag, Indianapolis might have to release some veterans to get under the ceiling. Polian said that there are no more existing contracts that can be restructured in order to carve out more cap space. In addition, if the Colts don't reach a long-term contract with Manning by mid-March, there essentially can't be any negotiations until mid-July.



Polian said there is no doubt, "none whatsoever," that Manning will be with the Colts for the 2004 season.



"The only question is what's going to be lining up with him," Polian said. "We can build the team [if Manning has the tag]. But what are we going to have next year if we have to 'franchise' him is another question. The squad is going to need some revisions if that comes to pass."



Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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