Colts willing to pay Manning, Luck in 2012
Money won't deter the Colts from taking a quarterback in April's draft.
They just have to make sure they've got the right man to succeed Peyton Manning.
Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian told radio listeners Monday night that the Colts could afford to keep Manning on the roster next season and still use their first-round draft pick on another franchise quarterback without sacrificing competitiveness.
''The payment to the first-round draft choice is far less than it was under the old (collective bargaining) agreement, so you could afford that,'' Polian told a caller. ''I'm perfectly fine with that approach.''
It would be a pricey move.
Manning agreed to a five-year contract worth $90 million in July, a deal that includes a $28 million bonus payment due in February. Manning hasn't played since having neck surgery in May and has barely practiced since agreeing to the deal. If the Colts opt out of Manning's deal, the four-time league MVP would become a free agent.
At 0-11, Indianapolis also holds a two-game lead in the chase for the No. 1 draft pick -- a slot that most analysts believe will be used on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Last year's top pick, Cam Newton, signed a four-year contract worth more than $22 million, meager compared to the six-year, $78 million deal St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford signed in 2009 as the No. 1 overall pick.
While Polian reiterated his previous position that this is the time to select Manning's successor if they find the right quarterback, Polian has declined to specifically talk about Luck, who some call the best quarterback prospect since the Colts selected Manning No. 1 overall in 1998. And Polian insists he's not even sure where Luck fits in this year's draft yet.
''A lot of names are being bandied about and Andrew Luck is one of them,'' he said. ''He can go back to school if he wants, and those guys don't have to make that decision until Jan. 15, so they're not even part of the equation yet. I have said publicly on a number of occasions that if the right person was there, we would make that pick. We were prepared to do that last year and came awfully close to doing it. Who that person is, right now, I couldn't tell you.''
Manning's future has been clouded because of the neck injury.
After having the initial surgery to repair a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his throwing arm, Manning underwent another procedure, a spinal fusion, Sept. 8. He still has not been cleared to practice with his teammates, though the Colts have kept him on the active roster in hopes he can start throwing during the final month of the season.
In the meantime, fans are asking why the Colts haven't been more forthcoming about Manning's prognosis.
On Monday night's radio show, one caller asked Polian why Sunday's broadcasters seemed so pessimistic about Manning's possible return.
''I did see something in the newspaper today that alluded to the fact that there had been pessimistic comments made by the commentators,'' said Polian, who has repeatedly declined interview requests from local reporters. ''During our meeting, they asked me for a timeline and I told them I couldn't give them anything anywhere near what would be accurate, that I could give them a guesstimate and I did. But I did not give them even a germ that indicated he would not play again. So I do not know what they were basing that on.''
But Polian said he still does not have a definitive timetable for Manning's return, either.
Polian also acknowledged the team may make some lineup changes this week, partly because of injuries and partly because of performance.
Fans have increasingly voiced concern with quarterback Curtis Painter, who threw two interceptions in the Carolina end zone to stop potentially tying scoring drives in Sunday's loss. Coach Jim Caldwell said earlier Monday he thought Painter improved throughout the game and did not indicate a move was imminent.
Polian did not say what might be different when the Colts head to New England (8-3) this weekend.
''This is a different offense and we need to recognize that's the fact and play to our strengths,'' Polian said. ''We probably need to reconfigure and that's something we'll be looking at the next couple of days.''
But the bigger question is what the Colts will do in the draft, and Polian seems certain that taking a quarterback with the No. 1 pick and pairing him with Manning is a distinct possibility.
''Of course you can do that,'' he said. ''We're not ready to make any decision on who we take until April.''