INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Peyton Manning could still be raking in the big bucks at age 40.
On Thursday, at a hastily called news conference, Colts owner Jim Irsay said he expects Manning to sign a record-setting deal before next season. Tom Brady currently holds the distinction for the highest annual average salary after agreeing to a four-year deal worth $18 million per year in September.
Manning's deal will not only be richer but also longer.
"I think six years is certainly a possibility, five or six years," Irsay said. "There's not a definitive number that I'm stuck on. You don't know how much longer he can play. You hope that it's five years, maybe six years. Until you get longer down the road, it's really uncertain."
Irsay's comments came two days after Indy used the exclusive franchise tag to keep the only four-time MVP in league history off the free-agent market. Manning, who turns 35 next month, will not be allowed to negotiate with other teams.
If he plays under the tag next season, Manning would make about $23 million.
Betting a long-term deal done quickly could serve three key purposes: lowering Manning's one-year salary cap number, putting more money in Manning's pocket right away because of large bonuses, and giving the Colts room to keep other key players around their star quarterback.
For more than a year, Irsay promised to make Manning the highest-paid player in league history. Apparently, Manning's agent, Tom Condon, now has the proof.
"The contracts out there have been compared and Brady and him have been sort of tied at the hip," Irsay said. "I've made an offer higher than that contract."
Irsay did not say how much the current offer is worth.
So when will all this get resolved?
Irsay said negotiations were "going well" and reminded fans he took a similar tack in 2004 - giving Manning the exclusive franchise tag - before signing him to a seven-year, $98 million deal in March. Indy then rescinded the designation.
The sequel could play out the same way.
While Irsay remains hopeful the two sides can work out a deal before the collective bargaining agreement expires March 3, he's prepared to have talks linger into the summer.
"I would like to see something get done before then," Irsay said. "But there's two sides to the negotiations, so either side can only go as fast as the other side. The sooner, the better yes. But if it doesn't get done before then, we can get things done this summer."
Manning repeatedly declined to comment on his contract situation during the season, and Condon told The Associated Press last month he expected the two sides to reach agreement, though he didn't establish a timetable.
That's not the only contract issue Irsay is dealing with this winter.
Irsay acknowledged he has opened negotiations to extend the contract of Adam Vinatieri, considered the best clutch kicker in league history. Vinatieri, running back Joseph Addai and linebacker Clint Session are among a long list of Colts players who could hit free agency once the owners and players reach a settlement.
And Irsay is still trying to decide what to do with safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year. Sanders signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract after the 2007 season, but injuries have limited him to just nine regular-season games the last three seasons.
"Before March third, I think we'll probably have some sense on that direction," Irsay said. "Again, there's nothing definitive. We've talked through a lot of different scenarios, I can't say definitively what direction we're going there."