The New York Giants got quarterback Eli Manning to his first NFL training camp on time by signing him Thursday to the richest rookie contract in NFL history, a six-year, $45 million deal that includes $20 million in combined bonus money.
Manning, the top overall choice in April's draft who was obtained by the Giants in a draft-day trade with San Diego, arrived at the University of Albany late in the afternoon, joining an in-progress team meeting on the club's reporting day. He is scheduled to participate in Friday morning's first practice of camp alongside Kurt Warner, the two-time league most valuable player signed by the Giants to help mentor Manning and compete with him for the starting job to open the season.
"I wanted to get here on time," Manning said in a news conference, opting not to show up late for his rookie training camp, as his brother did in 1998. Peyton Manning joined the Colts five days into camp. "I was hoping it would work out, and I'm glad it did. I really wanted to get here on time so I wouldn't get behind or cause another scene, especially with everything that happened at the draft."
Incentives in Manning's deal could push its value to $54 million. Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said the $20 million in bonus money in the contract is divided over five bonuses and is not merely a single signing bonus. The complexity of the deal was necessary because Accorsi and Manning's agent, Tom Condon, had to squeeze a contract with top-pick money into the 2004 salary cap slot of, roughly, the draft's fourth overall pick, which the Giants used on quarterback Philip Rivers in April before trading him to the Chargers. Manning had informed the Chargers, through Condon, that he wouldn't play for them.
The Giants were assigned a rookie pool -- a salary cap within the overall salary cap of $80.6 million -- of $4.37 million, ninth-highest in the league, based on having the fourth overall draft choice. If they and the Chargers had traded selections before the draft, the Giants would have been assigned a higher rookie-pool allotment, and the negotiations between Accorsi and Condon would have been far less complicated.
The two negotiated all day Wednesday, Accorsi said. And, with the Giants conceding that Manning deserved to be paid like the top overall selection, they agreed to the basics of the contract by late that afternoon. But they had to fit the deal into the Giants' salary-cap restrictions and worked on that until around 2 a.m. Thursday, Accorsi said, before taking a break and reconvening later in the morning to work out the final language, concluding around noon.
"You have to fit it in," Accorsi said. "What dragged it out so long was the structural part."
Manning, who had been waiting in Manhattan in recent days for Condon to give him the go-ahead to travel to Albany, drove from Giants Stadium and got into town just after 3:30 p.m.
The deal tops the contract that quarterback Carson Palmer signed with the Cincinnati Bengals three days before they selected him with the top overall choice in last year's draft. That deal included a $10.01 million signing bonus and a $4.01 million roster bonus payable after 22 months. The seventh season in Palmer's contract can be voided, making the deal worth about $40 million in bonuses and salaries over six seasons; escalator clauses could increase that total to about $49 million.
The $20 million in total bonus money in Manning's deal is thought to equal the second-most ever, behind only the $34.5 million signing bonus that his older brother Peyton received in the seven-year, $98 million deal he signed with the Colts in March. That contract also was negotiated by Condon.
The Giants want Eli Manning to compete with Warner, who signed with the Giants in June after being released by the St. Louis Rams, for immediate playing time.
"I want to be the starter," Manning said. "If I don't get it, I'm not going to whine and complain about it. I'm just going to keep working hard and prepare myself for later in the season or the next game or next year or my future career as a Giant. I've got a lot of things to learn to get better and I'm going to try and do everything I can to reach that point."
The second overall pick in the draft, tackle Robert Gallery, signed a seven-year contract with the Oakland Raiders on Thursday worth up to $60 million, including $18.5 million in guaranteed money.
"We're excited to get him in on time," Rick Smith, Gallery's agent, said by telephone. "It was a great give and take in negotiations. Both sides were motivated to get it done. To be a Pro Bowl left tackle in this league, you have to get to camp on time."