- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Jim Irsay is putting the Peyton Manning decision on hold.

The Colts owner said Wednesday he will monitor Manning’s recovery from Sept. 8 neck surgery over the next month and may wait until the last possible moment to determine whether to pay the quarterback a $28 million roster bonus, redo the five-year contract he signed last summer or risk losing the four-time MVP as a free agent.

“It’s two-phased. There’s the medical aspect, as to whether he can play at a really high level and that’s the only place he wants to be. Can he drill it in Foxboro in 10 degrees, 50 yards, that sort of thing,” Irsay told a small group of reporters. “The second issue has always been his health and the risks of going back onto the field. When the Super Bowl ends, he and I will continue to talk about it.”

The sticky situation has been a hot topic in Indianapolis, where Manning’s younger brother, Eli, will try to win his second Super Bowl ring with the Giants on Sunday against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is trying to win his fourth title.

No matter what Giants and Patriots players and coaches have said this week, Peyton Manning somehow winds up stealing the headlines.

Just two days after Irsay said he wouldn’t talk about Manning again this week, he broke that embargo and discussed the ongoing overhaul of the franchise. Since Jan. 2, Irsay has fired vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell and most of Caldwell’s staff.

The next big decision is all about Manning, who didn’t play a minute last season. The surgery was his third in 19 months, and he still hasn’t fully recovered. With a March 8 deadline to pay the bonus, Irsay intends to take his time making this call.

“Look, anything is possible if the two parties choose to get together,” Irsay said when asked about redoing Manning’s $90 million contract.

Even if Manning is healthy enough to play a 15th season, the questions are sure to continue.

Earlier Wednesday, new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said he hopes Manning returns to the Colts though he believes the best way for a rookie quarterback to learn is by playing. He didn’t drop hints about the Colts’ plans for Manning or what Indy would do with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Irsay has already said the Colts will choose Manning’s successor in April. The decision is expected to come down to presumed No. 1 choice Andrew Luck or Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III — either of whom would get playing time if Arians has a say.

“I say let him grow, man, put him out there and let him play,” Arians said. “They are going to make mistakes. You have to live with it and learn from it to get better.”

Arians was the first NFL quarterbacks coach to work with Manning, the No. 1 choice in 1998. He also tutored former No. 1 pick Tim Couch in Cleveland and Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh during the last five seasons.

“It’s kind of like deja vu (in Indy). It’s scary,” he said. “There is a new general manager and a new coach. Hopefully Peyton can come back and get ready to go. But, there will be a new quarterback and a new beginning. It’s exciting.”

The multi-million dollar question is whether Manning can come back.

There have been whispers all week that Manning might retire rather than land with a new team next season, and there has been rampant speculation about the velocity on his throws and whether the nerve will regenerate.

“I have no plans on doing that,” he said Tuesday when asked about retirement. “My plan hasn’t changed. I’m on track with what the doctors have told me to do, and I’m doing that. I’m rehabbing hard.”

Irsay’s decision may be based on more than Manning’s arm strength. He is still willing to pay the bonus if he can find a way to make it work under the salary cap, and if he determines bringing back Manning would be the best move for the organization. Yes, Irsay wants to keep No. 18 for the rest of his career.

But it may not make good business sense.

“Emotionally, I think it’s difficult from a sentimental point of view,” Irsay said. “I think it’s even harder on the fans because you don’t want to look at the reality. But my responsibility is that when we go on the field on opening day, the circle is as strong as we can be to win.”

Separately, Irsay said he expects former offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen to remain on new coach Chuck Pagano’s staff though it hasn’t been determined whether Christensen will coach quarterbacks or receivers. The team plans to interview defensive coordinator candidates Wednesday and Thursday, and Irsay called re-signing defensive end Robert Mathis and receiver Pierre Garcon offseason priorities.