Everyone knows the magical Peyton Manning date by now - Thursday, March 8. On that day, Manning is due a $28 million roster bonus, which will also activate additional years on his contract. However, the Indianapolis Colts are not expected to pay that bonus, having watched Manning spend the past year on the sidelines recovering from four neck surgeries. Now, holding the first pick in next month's NFL Draft, the Colts are looking to move on to the Andrew Luck era, and Manning would be in the way of that move.
So, the Colts are expected to release Manning, rather than pay the 4-time league MVP the bonus. However, as NFL Network's Jason La Canfora discovered today, the Colts actually have a window between the roster bonus, and having to cut the quarterback. According to La Confora's report, the Indianapolis Colts don't have to release Peyton Manning until 4pm Friday.
Essentially, Manning's contract has two bonuses, each at $28 million. The first is the option bonus, which goes into effect on Thursday. If the Colts are planning to pick up the option years on Manning's contract, they owe him $28 million by then. However, all the team has to do is tell him they won't be exercising that option, and they don't owe him anything.
Until Friday, at 4pm - which is two working days before the start of the new league year. At that time, the Colts will owe Manning a "non-exercise" payment of $28 million. So, the Colts would have to pay Manning $28 million to not use their option.
Basically, Manning built a no-trade clause into his contract. The team either has to pay him $28 million, or release him by 4pm on Friday.
This means is that Manning may not actually become a free agent until Friday. Of course, the team could turn down the option, keep that $28 million, and somehow work out a new contract with Manning by Friday. But, that seems highly unlikely.
And, if that doesn't happen, I would expect at 4:01pm Friday the Miami Dolphins to be standing on Manning's doorstep with a contract, and a blank check. And, maybe a helicopter.