Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay left the door open for Peyton Manning to return this season, saying Tuesday he would welcome the NFL's only four-time MVP. In doing so, Irsay also indicated he is leaving it up to the quarterback to make the final decision.
"We can make it work if he wants to be here,'' Irsay told the Indianapolis Star. "We'd be excited to have him back and finish his career with us.
"I want him to be able to make the choice. We would love to have him back here if he can get healthy and we can look at doing a contract that reflects the uncertainty of the ... healing process with the regeneration of the nerve.''
Irsay said he expects to meet with Manning within the next seven days to talk further about the quarterback's options with the Colts, who must pay a $28 million option bonus by March 8 for him to remain with the team. Payment of the option bonus activates the final four years of Manning's five-year, $90 million contract signed last July.
Should the Colts choose not to pay the March 8 bonus, Manning, 35, becomes an unrestricted free agent.
After missing the entire 2011 season following neck surgery on Sept. 8 described as a single-level, anterior fusion procedure, Manning can expect any new contract he signs -- whether with the Colts or a new team -- to be incentive-laden and tied to playing time, the Star reported.
Irsay has gone on record saying he is concerned about Manning's long-term health. The Colts' signature player has undergone three neck surgeries in the past two years, but Manning insists he has been cleared to play and is eager to resume his career.
The back-and-forth volleying of statements between team owner and player in recent weeks suggests neither side is eager to make the final call on whether Manning plays again in a Colts' uniform.
"There's no question it can be worked out if he wants to be here,'' said Irsay, putting the decision squarely in Manning's court. "It can work if he wants to come back and can get back to being the old Peyton.''