Manning gets record deal as teams prepare for free agency

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Peyton Manning got a record new contract Tuesday, solving a major salary cap problem for the Indianapolis Colts on a day most NFL teams also cleared cap room for free agency.

Except, as usual, the Washington Redskins.

The highest-profile player released Tuesday was San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia, who declined to accept a cut in his $9.9 million salary for next season. That made him one of the top players on the free agent market, which opens Wednesday.

The 49ers, who will go with Tim Rattay at quarterback, also cut Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone and gave disgruntled wide receiver Terrell Owens permission to seek a trade. Owens was prevented from becoming a free agent by a paperwork gaffe by his agent last week.

''I think it's very improbable that he would be back,'' general manager Terry Donahue said of Owens. ''Both parties have agreed to pursue a trade very actively in the next 72 hours.''

Linebacker Bill Romanowski, known for his training regimen and intensity on the field, was released by the Oakland Raiders after failing a physical.

The Colts, much to their relief, beat the deadline by signing last year's co-MVP to a seven-year, $98 million deal with a $34.5 million signing bonus, largest ever in the NFL. The deal was so complicated it took a while for the team and Manning's agent, Tom Condon, to figure out the exact size of the package.

But they did agree it saves the Colts $10.1 million in cap space, allowing them to re-sign current players and pursue free agents.

That's because Manning's cap number, including the pro-rated signing bonus, will be $8.3 million next season instead of the $18.4 million it would have been had he remained the team's franchise player.

Colts owner Jim Irsay was ecstatic at what it does for his team, which lost to Super Bowl winner New England in last season's AFC title game.

''There was a lot of pressure because we're getting close to (making) the Super Bowl,'' Irsay said. ''If you don't get it done, we're going in a dramatically different direction.''

The Redskins haven't been close to the Super Bowl since Daniel Snyder bought them, five years and five coaches ago. But it hasn't kept him from spending freely.

The team already has made two deals that will be formally completed later this week. One sends four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round draft choice to Denver for running back Clinton Portis. According to NFL historians, that's the first man-for-man trade of significant players since quarterbacks Dan Pastorini and Ken Stabler were dealt for each other in 1980.

The other trade brings quarterback Mark Brunell from Jacksonville for a third-round pick, a deal the Jaguars confirmed Tuesday.

Washington also jumped the gun by signing defensive end Philip Daniels. Normally those deals aren't done until after the deadline, but the signing was legal because Daniels was released on Monday by Chicago.

Romanowski was one of dozens of athletes to appear before a grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, the nutritional supplements lab accused of providing steroids to top sports stars.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday that Romanowski was one of seven athletes who received steroids and human growth hormone from BALCO. Romanowski finished last season on injured reserve after several concussions.

Tight end Jim Kleinsasser agreed to a five-year contract with Minnesota, keeping a valued part of the top-ranked offense with the Vikings.

In addition to Garcia, other desirable free agents are defensive linemen Jevon Kearse of Tennessee and Warren Sapp of Tampa Bay; running back Duce Staley, linebacker Carlos Emmons and cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor of Philadelphia; defensive end Grant Wistrom of St. Louis; guard Damien Woody of New England; cornerback Antoine Winfield of Buffalo; defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin of the New York Giants; and wide receiver Darrell Jackson of Seattle.

Another player who could be attractive is defensive end Marcellus Wiley, released Tuesday by San Diego. At the same time, the Chargers held on to 41-year-old quarterback Doug Flutie, restructuring his contract with a three-year extension.

But few of those free agents will get paid what they expect, even though more teams than usual have cap room as much as $16 million in the case of Chicago and Jacksonville.

Many teams would rather follow the example of New England, which rarely spends big money on free agents, but has won two Super Bowls in the last three seasons.

Instead, the Patriots prefer fitting in less expensive role players such as guard Russ Hochstein, who replaced Woody when he was injured for the AFC title game and Super Bowl. Hochstein re-signed with the team Monday, indicating the Patriots might be willing to let Woody go if he asks for too much.

In other moves Tuesday:

Miami cut seven veterans, including Pro Bowl safety Brock Marion and backup quarterback Brian Griese. Also cut were center Tim Ruddy, guard Todd Perry, wide receiver James McKnight, tackle Mark Dixon and safety Trent Gamble.

Detroit cut running back James Stewart, defensive tackle Luther Elliss, and wide receiver Bill Schroeder.

Ed McCaffrey, one of John Elway's favorite targets on Denver's two Super Bowl winners, retired at age 35 after two concussions last season. That also cleared $4.5 million in cap space for the Broncos.

Jacksonville cut Tony Brackens, who was due a $1 million roster bonus. The Jaguars are expected to bring the injury-plagued defensive end back at a lower salary.

Green Bay released 340-pound defensive tackle Gilbert Brown, a fan favorite who once took off a year to lose weight.

San Diego also cut tight end Stephen Alexander and defensive end Raylee Johnson.

Tennessee reached agreements on long-term contracts for All-Pro linebacker Keith Bulluck and tight end Erron Kinney and released veteran offensive lineman Tom Ackerman.

Dallas released oft-injured offensive lineman Ryan Young.

Tampa Bay released tight end Ken Dilger, linebacker Dwayne Rudd, receiver Karl Williams, tight end Roland Williams and safety Than Merrill. They also restructured the contract of offensive lineman Kerry Jenkins, who had been due a $1 million roster bonus Monday.

Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson said that he is close to agreement on a restructured contract that would clear the way for a trade to the Dallas Cowboys for Joey Galloway.

''It should be finalized within 24 hours,'' Johnson said. ''It's not done, but it's going to be. ... I'm extremely happy.''

Oakland also released defensive end Trace Armstrong after he failed a physical, and re-signed offensive lineman Brad Badger.

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