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“At this point, Mr. Irsay and I owe it to each other and to the fans of the organization to handle this appropriately and professionally, and I think we will. I’ve already reached out to Mr. Irsay,” Manning said. “I wasn’t trying to paint the Colts in a bad light, but it’s tough when so many people you’ve known for so long are suddenly leaving. I feel very close to a lot of these guys and we’ve done great things together. It’s hard to watch an old friend clean out his office. That’s all I was trying to say.

“I just want to keep rehabbing and working hard, and when the time is right for Mr. Irsay and I to sit down, I look forward to a healthy conversation about my future. I’ve worked too hard and have such great respect and have so many great relationships inside the building and out, and it’s incredibly important that those remain.”

The drama may be just beginning.

Now that Irsay has his people in place in the front office, Pagano can focus his attention on selecting a staff. Grigson said Pagano will make those choices.

Irsay’s decisions will be much more difficult.

Indy’s horrendous season means the Colts landed the No. 1 overall pick, which Irsay has said they will use for their quarterback of the future _ presumably Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

If so, Irsay must decide how much money he wants to invest in one position. Manning signed a five-year, $90 million contract in July and is due that bonus in March. The perennial Pro Bowler is said to be recovering well from his latest surgery, but he will also turn 36 on March 24 _ a little more than two weeks after the March 8 deadline to pay that bonus.

Irsay reiterated Thursday that his choice will come down to Manning’s health, not money.

“I think fans already understand that,” Irsay said when asked whether Manning may have played his final game in Colts‘ blue. “This isn’t an ankle, it isn’t a shoulder. Often times the NFL is criticized for putting someone out there at risk, and I’m not going to doing that. I think he and I just need to see where his health is because this isn’t about money or anything else. It’s about his life and his long-term health.”

That’s only the start of the Colts‘ questions.

Grigson and Irsay must figure out how to free up salary cap space and what to do with a group of high-priced veterans such as Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt, and whether they want to bring back some of their key free agents such as Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne.

Not surprisingly, Pagano wants as many of those guys back as he can get, including Manning.

“I just came from a great organization and just spent some time with one of the greatest leaders (Ray Lewis) to ever play this game,” Pagano said. “And there’s one of those leaders right here (Manning) and those are the types of individuals and people that you have to surround yourself with.”

But it’s Irsay who must make that decision, and it’s obvious that the two haven’t been talking much lately _ something Irsay acknowledged will change between now and March 8.

“It’s a very simple issue, it’s a health issue,” Irsay said.

Story Continues →