Here’s how it works. Before the extension, Manning’s 2009 contract counted for $9.4 million in salary and $1.5 million in incentives in ’09, which, when added to proration, made his 2009 cap number $13.86 million. When they extended the contract, they made this season’s salary $7.5 million, and then knocked those incentives off the books because they weren’t included in the new deal. That vanished money is less than the $2.6 million prorated-for-2009 amount of Manning’s signing bonus … $800,000 less, to be exact. So, by giving Manning an extension with a redone contract, they have $800,000 to spend on players (or do whatever) this season that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Even when you compare Manning’s contract with other current quarterback contracts, peers like Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and San Diego’s Philip Rivers, it looks less like an otherworldly contract and more just like the Going Rate. Rivers is making more guaranteed money than Manning ($38,150,000), and as a total for the first three years of the contract (which Halsell uses as a barometer for likely contract value, considering how few contracts make it all the way to the end), Roethlisberger outpaces Manning $52,686,501 to $50,850,000.
The main reason for the Giants’ loud trumpeting of the contract has been the notion that they are tying their future to Manning’s, that they will rise and fall on his success or failure. But that’s not true either. If Manning were to crap out this season, the Giants couldn’t cut him because they’d take too much of a hit. But by seasons two and three? “If you cut him in either one of those years, the amount of proration that’s going to come into those years, the penalty that you’re going to pay for cutting him is not going to be equal to or more than what his cap number was going to be anyway,” Halsell says. “So if you cut him after, in 2011, you actually save yourself some money. So they’re not going to be struggling to make that decision, if they have to go that route.”
Manning ranked fourteenth in the NFL last season in pass efficiency, seventeenth in yards, and tenth in touchdowns. Those are far less impressive numbers than “first in salary.” He might not look like the best quarterback in football, but they pretend he’s paid like one. They plan for the illusion to hold. At least for the next two or three years.
And in a way, it’s a smart move. Manning has played well so far, and there’s something winningly old-school about it, a harking back to the time when people truly put their money—or at least their public money—behind their convictions. Only time will tell if the Giants’ confidence will pay off ... or if it’s another case of irrational exuberance.