When I was very young, back in the last century, I had a contest with my friend. We were about to make our first jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. The pre-jump dialog was something like "you go first." "No, you go first." "No, you go first."
The most interesting contest between Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb won't be on the field when the Indianapolis Colts visit the Washington Redskins. The contest is who is first to sign a contract extension. Both McNabb and Manning are in the last year of their current NFL deals.
I can envision the text exchange between Manning and McNabb. You first. No, you first.
There are uncertainties for any new deal signed this year. The prolonged discussion between the owners and the players' union to extend the Collective Bargaining Agreement is one question mark. Age is another. Manning is 34. McNabb is 33.
The next extension may outlive the useful playing days of each player. How do you write a contract that considers a 2011 work stoppage?
However, for McNabb and Manning, the biggest factors affecting their next deal are each other and a man named Brady in New England. It's a business. In business, prices are not set by costs or, in sports, by your past performance. Prices are set by the next-best alternative in the market.
Tom Brady's benchmark extension is a four-year deal with $48 million guaranteed and maximum potential of $72 million.
Big-market Washington has the wherewithal to approach Brady's deal. Mid-market Indianapolis might choke on it. Forbes.com ranks Washington and New England as the second and third most valuable NFL franchise. Indianapolis ranks 11th on the list on the strength of the new Lucas Oil Stadium.
Teams are, or ought to be, interested in front-loading contracts to take advantage of the no-cap year. Washington can better withstand the cash flow hit than Indianapolis. Their big risk is to so overload McNabb's deal that it kills their options to rebuild the roster.
Bill Polian at the Colts and Bill Belichick at the Patriots know there's no such thing as a must-have free agent. Veteran contracts affect how you build your team in the future. It's wise to take the time to flesh out all the options to keeping the player and to letting him walk.
Manning has won more Super Bowls than McNabb, but less than Brady has. Manning and the Colts may be waiting for McNabb's deal to set a floor on their talks. McNabb and Washington may wait on Manning's deal for the next contract benchmark.
Both McNabb and Manning could take lessons from wily veteran Brett Favre who finagled a bonus bump of up to $7 million just for showing up at the Minnesota Vikings training camp last August.
Snyderrato would have locked up McNabb by now, just to, you know, be sure to have a proven commodity to win now. Cold-eyed GMs look at their options. They look at their next best alternatives. That makes the Redskins-Colts game a scouting opportunity for each team.
Yes, Virginia. We will be watching our next quarterback when the Colts face the Redskins Sunday.
We just don't know if it's Donovan McNabb or Peyton Manning.
Point after: Think that last line is preposterous? Raise your hand if last October you thought McNabb would be Washington's quarterback today. Thought so.