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Irsay says he expects Manning's neck to be ready when Indianapolis opens training camp
Jim Irsay isn't worried about Peyton Manning's health yet.
He's just not entirely sure when Manning will start throwing to his teammates. The Colts owner told reporters Thursday in Atlanta he doesn't expect offseason neck surgery to prevent Indianapolis' franchise player from playing at his usually high level.
"My sense is that he's doing well," Irsay said at the league's owner meetings. "We've been through (his neck) surgery before. So I anticipate him being ready."
Manning also had neck surgery in March 2010.
The comments come one day after The Indianapolis Star reported that Manning would not be ready to participate at the start of training camp. Irsay did not elaborate on when Manning would start practicing.
But there are indications Manning's recovery from May surgery has not gone smoothly.
Archie Manning, the longtime NFL quarterback and father of the league's first family, said in early June that his son's rehab wasn't going as quickly as expected. Two weeks ago at the family's annual football camp in Louisiana, Manning acknowledged he's taken a cautious approach to rehab because he was unable to work with the Colts trainers during the four-month lockout. Manning also limited his throws to short tosses at the camp.
Not surprisingly, that has led to speculation he won't be ready to practice when training camp is scheduled to open Aug. 1. Players are scheduled to report to Anderson University, about 40 miles northeast of Indianapolis on July 31.
Even agent Tom Condon can't say for sure when Manning will be in uniform.
"Everybody knows Peyton is going through the rehab and I'd be way out of place commenting on that," Condon said Wednesday.
Irsay, however, believes the cornerstone of his franchise will not only be ready for another big season but will live up to the title of highest-paid player in league history. Tom Brady currently holds the crown after signing a four-year deal worth $72 million, a record average of $18 million annually, in September.
Irsay has said he's already made an offer to top Brady's and he expects a five or six-year deal to be completed shortly after players and owners ratify a new collective bargaining agreement. The lockout prevented Condon and the Colts from negotiating during the work stoppage, and the Colts have put the franchise tag on Manning, a move that could cost Irsay about $23 million if Manning signs the tender.
That's not what Irsay wants.
"I'm optimistic that we can get a long-term contract done and he'll be ready to go," Irsay said.
On Tuesday, Condon said he wouldn't comment on how quickly something could get wrapped up because of the uncertainty surrounding the labor deal.
Still, there are potential obstacles. Manning is one of the players involved in an antitrust suit against the NFL, and some reports indicated those players wanted a settlement that only allows them to be given the franchise tag once during their careers. Indy used the tag on Manning in 2004. He eventually signed a seven-year, $98 million deal that allowed the Colts to rescind the tag.
Condon has repeatedly denied the assertion that Manning is looking for any special treatment because of the lawsuit.
Manning's impact on the Colts has been clear.
When he arrived, Indy was coming off a 3-13 season and not a regular contender.
Since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, Manning has led the Colts to 11 playoff appearances, eight division titles, two AFC championships and the 2006 Super Bowl crown. He has thrown for nearly 55,000 yards, has a career completion percentage of 64.9 and needs one more TD pass to reach 400 in his career. He's broken all of the franchise's major all-time passing marks, most previously held by Hall of Famer John Unitas.
Most important, he has not missed a start in the regular season or playoffs, 227 games, the second-longest streak in league history among quarterbacks and has won a league-record four MVPs as well as one Super Bowl MVP award.
Manning's career, however, hasn't been completely injury free.
In 2008, he missed all of training camp after having surgery for an infected bursa sac in his left knee. Indy started that season 3-4, then reeled off nine straight wins to make the playoffs again. In March 2010, he had surgery to alleviate a pinched nerve in his neck and did not miss any team as he led the injury-depleted Colts to another crown.