|Indy owner Jim Irsay sounds like Peyton remains in the team's future, but what about Reggie? (Getty Images)|
By Ryan Wilson
Huge win for Indianapolis Thursday night (their second in a row!), but perhaps the biggest news to come from the Texans-Colts get-together took place before the game when Colts owner Jim Irsay told NFL Network that he couldn’t envision a situation in which Peyton Manning would play anywhere but Indianapolis unless he wasn’t able to play at all.
"I think the situation is if he's back and he's healthy, I see him coming back and playing here," Irsay said in an interview with Rich Eisen. "I think the hope is that his health is in the position where he could return again. That remains uncertain and that's something that's first and foremost on my mind."
A quick timeline of events:
* May 23, 2011: Manning has neck surgery (bulging disk)
* July 30, 2011: Signed to 5-year, $90 million contract
* September 8, 2011: Manning has spinal fusion surgery
* March 8, 2012: $28 million option bonus due
And it’s that March 8 deadline that has led to speculation that the Colts could either cut or trade Manning (which led to speculation that the Redskins would be interested).
"I don't see that being an issue," Irsay said. "I paid him $26 million this season and he didn't play and I knew it was an iffy situation. If he's healthy and he can play, he'll be back here."
But even if Manning’s healthy, that won’t preclude Irsay from taking a quarterback in April’s draft.
“The draft will be what the draft is — there’s a lot of situations that can unfold from here,” Irsay said. “If there’s a great young quarterback there, we wouldn’t hesitate to take him.”
(We suspect that would be the case no matter what the Redskins might be willing to give up.)
But Manning isn’t the only Colts veteran whose future is uncertain. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, the team’s 2001 first-round pick, is in the last year of his contract. He’s been looking for a new deal since the summer, but the team asked for patience in August and he’s said all the right things since.
"I am well aware of that and I’ve come to the conclusion that in every athlete’s career they are going to be faced with this decision at some point in time, whether it is a long career or a short career," Wayne said in comments posted on the Colts website.
For an idea of just how valuable Wayne has been during his career, consider this: in his 10 seasons with Manning prior to 2011, Wayne has averaged 79 receptions for 1,075 yards and seven touchdowns. From 2006-2010, those numbers jump to 99, 1,319, and 8. And while his numbers are down in 2011, he did grab the game-winner against Houston Thursday.
Still, there’s no guarantee that Indy brings him back, especially if Manning’s future remains in doubt heading into this offseason.
And that leads us to this: if Wayne doesn’t return to Indianapolis, where might he end up in 2012?
A list of possible destinations:
1. New England Patriots. Consider it payback for Adam Vinatieri, but more importantly, it’ll give Tom Brady the deep threat Chad Ochocinco never developed into. Wayne’s game is built on precise route-running, which is imperative in Peyton Manning’s offense (and Brady's). And it’s something Ochocinco never had to worry about in Cincinnati.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars. A team so desperate for playmakers at wide receiver that they’re signing guys off the street. Of course, the Jags have plenty to sort out in the coming months, starting with finding a head coach and making sure that Blaine Gabbert really is Jacksonville’s quarterback of the future. That said, Shahid Kahn probably doesn’t have enough money to convince Wayne to come to Florida.
3. New York Jets. Rex Ryan has yet to meet a veteran with a nice resume that he wasn’t interested in bringing to New York (see: Holmes, Burress, and even Derrick Mason for a look-see earlier this season). Maybe Wayne’s route-running will rub off on the other wideouts and mask some of Mark Sanchez’s struggles with accuracy.
4. San Francisco 49ers. Braylon Edwards has been underwhelming and Michael Crabtree could use a proven veteran to play opposite him while pushing him to get better. But if Wayne wasn’t crazy about catching passes from Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, he might not want to play with Alex Smith, either. Smith is clearly better than either of the Colts’ backups, but San Francisco’s offense is built on west coast principles, the running game and the defense. Then again, winning fixes a lot.
5. St. Louis Rams. Another team in dire need of skill position players. Unlike Jacksonville, Sam Bradford has proven he can play in the NFL, it’s just that he and almost everybody else on the roster was beset with injuries in 2011.
Ultimately, we expect Wayne to stay in Indy, especially if Manning’s back in 2012 and beyond.
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