One on side sits Peyton Manning, golden boy of the NFL. Since being drafted number one overall in the 1998 draft, Peyton Manning has consistently been one of the NFL’s top-rated quarterbacks. He holds numerous NFL records, including touchdown passes in a single season (49 in 2004), most consecutive seasons with over 4,000 yards passing (6 from 1999through 2004), and most seasons with 4,000 or more yards passing in a career (7). His career 94.4 passing rating in the NFL ranks second all-time to Steve Young’s 96.8. He recently quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title. If any player in the NFL could realistically name his price and get it, Peyton Manning is that player.
On the other side sits Lovie Smith. When he took over the Chicago Bears in 2004, he inherited a team that had gone 4-12 and 7-9 in the previous two seasons. His first season proved to be disappointing due to numerous injuries, as the team finished 5-11, but the Bears showed marked improvement on defense, moving from 22nd overall to 14th. In 2005, the Bears finished the season with an 11-5 record and advanced to the playoffs with the number two seed overall after having won the NFC North division. Then last season, the Bears had the NFC’s best regular season record (13-3), and eventually advanced to the Super Bowl. If any coach would be in line for a big pay raise, it would seem to be Lovie Smith.
But stories don’t always have happy endings.
Peyton Manning’s story does. It was announced on Wednesday that Manning had restructured his contract. A roster bonus he was to have received was designated as a standard signing bonus, which frees up 8.2 million dollars under the salary cap. What this means for the Colts is that because of Peyton Manning’s willingness to renegotiate (along with a similar move from Robert Mathis, who helped free close to 4 million dollars in cap room), the Colts now have roughly 14.8 million dollars they can use to resign players or go after new stars.
For Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears, however, the weeks following the Super Bowl have been less pleasant. After first cutting off contract discussions following the regular season, negotiations resumed following the Bears’ loss to the Colts in the Super Bowl, but Frank Bauer, Smith’s agent, says talks between the team and coach are a “stalemate.” “We’re not close,” he said. “We’re not encouraged and based on where talks have gone recently, Lovie will be a free agent after next season.”
Because of this, Smith will coach the 2007 edition of the Chicago Bears without a contract extension, which means that following the season, no matter how it turns out for the Bears, Lovie Smith will be able to take offers from any team. According to ESPN, Smith was the lowest-paid coach in the NFL this past season, earning $1.35 million, and will again be the lowest paid coach next year, with a paycheck of $1.45 million in 2007.