On June 22nd, Pro Football Talk said of Peyton Manning, "Is that a bigger problem than the fact that he gets paid so much money that it's a struggle to put a good team around him?"
This immediately struck me as stupid. Look at the Colts' records since Manning joined the team in 1998. With Manning as the starting QB, the Colts have won 3, 12, 10, 6, 10, 12, 12, 14, and 12 regular season games, and they just won the Super Bowl. There's no other team in the league that has won at least 12 games the last four seasons. If you just look at the three seasons he's played under his current contract, you'll see three division titles and an NFL championship. This means either:
a.) It's not such a struggle to put a good team around Manning (or the Colts' front office is so great they are able to)
b.) Manning is so good that he leads the team to wins despite the struggle of putting a good team around him (meaning he's easily worth the money)
Some people persist in claiming the Colts are hamstrung by having Manning's albatross contract taking up too much of the salary cap. This simply isn't true: the Colts are one of the winningest teams in football, so either they're doing fine building a good team despite Manning's contract, or Manning is a dominant football player that any team would be happy to pay a lot of money to.
And how devastating to the Colts' salary cap is Manning's contract? According to USA Today, Manning's 2007 cap number is $8.2 million. According to Askthecommish.com, the 2007 NFL salary cap is $109 million. According to my calculator, Manning's contract takes up 7.5% of the Colts' 2007 cap space. Peyton Manning is worth 7.5% of a team's cap space, isn't he? Can it possibly be a "fact" that the best QB in the league hurts his team by making 7.5% of his team's salary cap space?
According to USA Today, in 2005 Manning had only the fourth highest cap value among quarterbacks; in 2005, Joey Harrington had a higher cap number than Peyton Manning. So did Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper. I don't recall people saying those QBs had contracts making it a "struggle" to put good teams around them. People like Bill Simmons sometimes cite contracts to show that Tom Brady selflessly helps his team while Peyton Manning selfishly hurts his team; however, in 2005, Brady's cap value was only $7,256 lower than Manning's.
In 2004, Manning's total pay was $35,037,700, according to USA Today. But also according to USA Today, in 2004 Manning's cap value was still lower than Brett Favre's cap value. Was Favre's 2004 contract making it a "struggle" for the Packers to put a good team around him? The 2004 Colts, by the way, went 12-4, and Manning was MVP throwing 49 touchdown passes. Was it a struggle to put a good team around Manning that season? If you go back to 2003 on USA Today's chart, Manning did have the highest cap number among QBs--before he signed his new contract. The 2003 Colts went 14-5 including the postseason, and Manning was the NFL's co-MVP.
The Colts' regular season success shows clearly that the Colts have not been hurt by having Manning's contract on the team; rather, there is no doubt that having Peyton Manning in the lineup has helped the Colts win games.
And let's not forget: the 2006 Colts won the Super Bowl. According to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Colts became "the only team in NFL history to beat the league’s three top scoring defenses in the same postseason." In the playoffs the Colts beat the 13-3 Ravens, the 12-4 Patriots, and the 13-3 Bears. Could it really be a "fact" that it's a "struggle" to put a good team around Manning--when the team just won a championship?
So why does Peyton Manning still get criticized for having a big contract that supposedly hurts his team's chances to win? His team has not struggled to win at all (since he signed that contract, the Colts won three division titles in three seasons, averaged 13 wins a season, and won the Super Bowl), and his salary cap number is actually very reasonable.
If you want to criticize Peyton Manning, you can't use his contract. Maybe you want to mock his commercials? His looks? To criticize the best quarterback in the league, whose team is constantly very good, and who just led his team to a championship, you're going to have to find non-football reasons to mock him.