New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has one year left on his contract and makes a ton of money. His $17 million salary is the second highest in the league in 2015, and his $19.75 million salary-cap number is the sixth highest. The Giants are paying a premium for their durable, reliable, two-time-Super-Bowl-champion quarterback, and we have discussed at some length in this space the pros and cons of extending Manning's contract this offseason to provide some short-term financial relief.
A major development on this front struck late last week, when the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a five-year, $99 million contract extension with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Manning, Roethlisberger and San Diego's Philip Rivers all were drafted in 2004, and each entered this offseason with one year left on his contract. Roethlisberger is the first of the three to sign an extension, and as such he provides some guideposts for Manning, Rivers, the Giants and the Chargers when it comes time to do those extensions.
Now, this isn't about which of these players is better than the other, because the point is that Manning and Roethlisberger are quite similar. Each has won two Super Bowls, though Roethlisberger has played in three. Manning was MVP of both of his. Wide receivers won the MVP awards in Roethlisberger's title-game wins. Roethlisberger has a better career completion percentage (63.7 to 59.0), passer rating (93.9 to 82.4) and average yards per pass (7.88 to 7.09). Manning has 698 more passing yards and eight more touchdowns than Roethlisberger has, but of course he has also thrown 54 more interceptions. Manning has never missed a game. Roethlisberger has missed 15 due to injury or suspension. Manning is 14 months older.
Regardless of fan loyalty or personal preference, it's clear that Roethlisberger and Manning belong in the same contractual bucket. So the question the Giants have to ask, as they consider whether to extend Manning now or wait another year before doing so, is whether they're ready to give him this Roethlisberger deal or something that approximates it.
Manning isn't about to cut the Giants a deal. He has no reason to do so. Roethlisberger just got $20 million a year without hitting the open market. If Manning were to make it to free agency next year, given the current state of the quarterback position league-wide, he'd get a deal that would make Ndamukong Suh feel like a pauper. That's his hammer, he knows it and he'd be a fool not to use it. So if the Giants are going to extend Manning, it's going to be for something in the $20 million-per-year range and likely for at least four years. Roethlisberger's guaranteed money is being reported at a little more than $60 million, and Manning and his agents are well aware of this, too.
The only thing the Giants have to gain by doing Manning's deal now -- as opposed to a year from now -- is cap space. But they have something like $8 million left in cap space for 2015, and the sluggish way they've approached free agency so far indicates they're in no rush to exhaust it. Short-term cap relief is not a sound reason upon which to base a major, long-term franchise decision, so if the Giants can get through this offseason without needing the $11 million or so that a Manning extension could provide, then they'd be wise to do so, and I think that's the realization to which they have come.
Waiting a year to do the Manning extension comes with very little risk on the team's end. His best-case scenario is a monster year and a third Super Bowl title, which would put him in line to land a record-breaking quarterback deal. But they'd have to give him something awfully close to that to lock him up now, and they could always franchise him next year for premium money anyway if they wanted to keep him off the market, so what's the harm in waiting? Another year gives them a chance to answer some lingering questions. What if Manning is in decline? What if this new offense of theirs doesn't really require a $20 million-a-year quarterback? What if they bottom out, get a super-high draft pick and have an opportunity to completely reshape the franchise around a new quarterback, as they did with Manning in 2004?
Roethlisberger's deal with the Steelers did nothing to help the Giants' bargaining position with Manning. If he comes to them this offseason with terms they find agreeable, then yes, it's entirely possible they could get something done now. If some surprise free agent or trade target becomes available in the coming weeks or months that requires a big cap spend, it's possible they could get something done then. But it's also possible -- and in many ways, sensible -- to wait another year. As long as the price is as high as the Roethlisberger deal says it is, the Giants have no reason to rush into a new Manning deal, and I don't think they will.