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Peyton realizes he’s on a one-year deal

Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 18: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos takes the field during pre-game introductions before taking on the Seattle Seahawks at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 18, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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The initial reports trumpeted a five-year, $96 million contract. The truth is that Peyton Manning signed a contract that will pay him $18 million in 2012, with no guarantees beyond that.

Peyton knows it, and he’s willing to admit it.

“End of the day, my contract really is only a one-year contract,” Manning told Woody Paige of the Denver Post. “That is the fact of the matter, so I think you do play with a sense of urgency.”

As Paige explains it, there’s a fairly large asterisk. He writes that, if Peyton fails a “neck examination” after the season, the next two years at a total of $40 million “could be voided.”

Which means that, if Peyton simply passes the “neck examination,” he gets another $40 million.

Paige is in the right church, but he’s perched in the wrong pew. As we reported back in March, the Broncos can dump Peyton Manning for any reason and at any time after the 2012 season ends, up until the final day of the 2012 league year, in early March. If they don’t part ways, Peyton will be guaranteed $40 million over the next two seasons. The Broncos will be able to avoid the 2014 salary of $20 million only if he suffers another injury to his neck during the 2013 season.

As a result, the Broncos will be facing a $40 million decision after the season. Which means that Peyton needs to show them enough in 2012 to persuade them to keep him around.

It’s easy to say that there’s no way the Broncos will move on. But here’s the thing to keep in mind: They wanted Peyton in part because only he could give them a permanent solution to the Tebow problem. Even if they don’t keep Peyton beyond the coming season, they’ll never have to bring Tebow back.