It's just one of the uncertainties that owner Jim Irsay's team faces in this whirlwind week.
Lockout rules prevented Manning, the only four-time MVP in NFL history, from working out with Colts trainers after he had surgery on his neck in May. It was the second time in 15 months that Manning has undergone neck surgery, and he might not be ready to practice when his teammates take the field Aug. 1.
Irsay said he has spoken with agent Tom Condon but not yet with Manning and plans to be cautious with his franchise quarterback.
"It's really a process of holding him back. You don't want him doing too much too soon, and you don't know on recoveries," Irsay said in a conference call Monday night. "A lot of times, eight weeks is enough. But to get a full recovery, it's going to be a little longer in this case."
Before Manning can even take the field, there are other matters to clear up -- like his contract. He must sign either a long-term deal or his one-year, $23 million franchise offer before practicing at Anderson University.
Irsay said he was willing to stay up "past midnight" Monday to have something done quickly, hours after NFL player representatives unanimously voted to approve the new labor pact and Manning issued a statement saying he was ready to get started.
"As a fan of the game, I'm pleased the two sides have reached a deal and, as a professional, I want to get back to work," Manning said.
Clearly, re-signing Manning is the biggest piece in the Colts' complicated jigsaw puzzle.
The team already is over the new salary cap of $120.3 million, and Irsay acknowledged it's likely the Colts will have to release players this week, though he didn't say whom.
A long-term deal with Manning might clear up enough cap room to prevent some cuts and allow the Colts to re-sign a long list of their own players headed to free agency. That list includes starting running back Joseph Addai, starting offensive lineman Charlie Johnson, starting linebacker Clint Session, kicker Adam Vinatieri and safety Melvin Bullitt, who is expected to replace Bob Sanders as a starter. Sanders signed with the San Diego Chargers in February after the Colts released him.
Irsay said he already has offered Manning a deal that will make him the highest-paid player in league history. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady currently holds that distinction after agreeing to a record annual average salary of $18 million, $72 million over four years, in September.
When asked if there was a hang-up with a potential deal with Manning, Irsay said: "Not in my mind. The number has to competitively work. It's not a question of how much I'm willing to spend. It's who gets the money, and how we continue to sign other players. Just to get under the cap now, we'll have to release some players, possibly a well-known player."
Some have speculated that the most likely to go is right tackle Ryan Diem, who signed a seven-year, $36 million deal in 2005.
Releasing Diem, however, could create additional concerns. The Colts used their first two draft picks on Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo and Villanova tackle Ben Ijalana in an effort to upgrade the offensive line, and using two rookies to keep Manning healthy might not be ideal. Manning has started 227 consecutive regular-season and playoff games, the second-longest streak in league history among quarterbacks.
At least the league's new 10-year deal means the Colts can get started on time.
When the league released its list of reporting dates, the Colts and Minnesota Vikings were both listed as reporting Friday, 15 days before their first preseason game. But team spokesman Avis Roper said that was the earliest date teams could report, and the Colts and Vikings have both decided to hold their first practice, as scheduled, Aug. 1 after reporting Sunday.
Manning's teammates wasted no time getting back to business as usual.
Punter Pat McAfee already was cracking jokes on his Twitter account, wide receiver Pierre Garcon also took to the social networking site to announce a contest for two tickets to a Colts game, and low-key defensive captain Gary Brackett summed it up this way: "FOOTBALL BACK... FOOTBALL BACK... THATS ALL THE PLAYERS SAYING IS FOOTBALL BACK!!!"
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press