Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will account for $21.2 million against the team’s salary cap in 2009 – nearly 20 percent of the $123 million allotted for each NFL franchise. That’s more than Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Gary Brackett combined. It is also the highest cap number in the NFL.

Peyton is shameless when it comes to raking in endorsements so a paycut to make room for some free agents shouldn't be a problem right?

Peyton is shameless when it comes to raking in endorsements so a paycut to make room for some free agents shouldn't be a problem right?

If Manning’s number one priority is winning another championship, he should take a pay cut.

If he should choose not to, the Colts will face the same problems. With one man taking up nearly a fifth of the cap, there is little money left to invest in the defense and the depth required to field a decent special teams unit. Simply put, there’s not enough money to build a championship caliber team.

Following the Colts’ Super Bowl victory, Manning restructured his contract to cut about $8 million off the team’s cap in 2007. But with that option no longer available, the Colts can only hope he takes a pay cut this time around, as his salary hits its peak.

Manning should follow Larry Fitzgerald’s lead – he recently said he’d take a pay cut to keep fellow receiver Anquan Boldin in Arizona.

While a financial sacrifice from Manning likely won’t save Marvin Harrison – his cap hit is $13.5 million in 2009, hardly worth his dwindled services – a pay cut could free up enough funds for the Colts to resign his buddy Jeff Saturday, who is a free agent. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden is also a free agent, and a player the Colts’ defense can ill afford to lose. And with their current financial situation, the Colts can forget about adding any free agents from outside the team.

Ironically, the USA Today recently reported that Manning has been recruiting Titans free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to come to the Colts while in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Perhaps Manning isn’t aware of his $21.2 million cap hit. Maybe he doesn’t know the Colts will be cutting corners to stay under the cap – as usual – not signing Haynesworth, who is seeking top dollar. Haynesworth’s cap hit will likely be at least $10 million a year.

Aside from the glaring need for a player like Haynesworth to shore up the middle of the Colts defense – which ranked 24th against the run – the team desperately needs to fix its running game that ranked 31st in the league last year.

As we’ve seen in the past, the inability to run and stop the run equals early playoff exits. In their last two playoff losses, the Colts have run 40 times for 108 yards (2.7 yards per carry) and one touchdown while allowing 63 rushes for 266 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and four touchdowns – both times against a LaDainian Tomlinson-less Chargers team.

If Manning reworks his contract and takes a little less money, don’t feel bad – he’ll be just fine. He ranked No. 9 in CNNMoney.com’s Top 10 endorsement superstars of 2007, raking in an estimated $13 million in endorsements that year. Companies he gained endorsements from included Sprint, MasterCard, Reebok, and Gatorade. Surely he’ll rank just as high for the 2008 list, considering he’s now a member of the Oreo Double Stuf Racing League. Manning won’t struggle to find endorsements in the future either.

Football players’ careers are very short and can end abruptly – there’s nothing wrong with getting money while you can. But Manning can stand to lose a few million if it means helping Colts construct a team built for the long haul. After all, you can’t put a price on a Lombardi Trophy.

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