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Manning's ability to practice crucial to future with Colts

These are trying times for the Indianapolis Colts.

Trying enough, in fact, that it soon could be time for the 0-8 Colts to begin thinking about life A.P -- After Peyton.

Except on Thursday team owner Jim Irsay wasn't quite ready to declare the end of the Manning era just yet.

"I think it's too early to bury this era," Irsay said during a 40-minute interview. "I think to say that Peyton is done and the era is over is, to me, way, way too premature. I've always sort of known that era would be decided when Peyton is here. But I don't feel like that era is done."

Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said on Sirius XM radio on Thursday that the Colts would like to see Manning, who is still recovering from September neck surgery, practice before the season ends, as his evaluation would play a crucial role in dictating how the team approaches Manning's contract this offseason.

The Colts must decide whether to opt out of Manning's five-year contract or pay a $28 million bonus to keep him on the roster. And if they have a high draft pick next year, Indy also will have to decide whether to take Manning's heir apparent, someone like Andrew Luck or Landry Jones.

"It's something you talk about and scenarios, who could be behind Peyton and how long you want him to sit and how much money you have committed to quarterbacks," Irsay said. "I think theoretically, you could have Peyton for two or three more good years and then have someone behind him, but that's theoretical."

A few hours earlier, Manning made his second impromptu locker room appearance of the season, telling reporters that he's spending every day in rehab and that he hopes to practice with his teammates in December and play in a game later this season.

"We're still waiting for the fusion to take place," Manning said. "It's still going slow, and we still have some issues with the regeneration of the nerve. I still have some restrictions."

Manning said that a Dec. 1 doctors appointment was his next check point in his recovery, and he understands the Colts' desire to see him back on the field before the end of the year.

"It's a one-year deal with a four-year extension," Manning said. "Part of the reason to practice is so the Colts have a fair chance to evaluate where I am. The team has a right to know where you are physically and where your health is."

Manning had a spinal fusion procedure Sept. 8 to repair a damaged nerve that was causing weakness in his throwing arm. It was his third neck surgery in 19 months.

Doctors who were not involved with Manning's surgery said it was likely to take two or three months before Indy's franchise quarterback could make it back onto the practice field, a timeline that is consistent with what Manning said Thursday.

How close is Manning to being healthy? Nobody, not even Manning, knows for sure.

"What you want to see is for him to keep making progress, to get back to the point where you can say he's making all the throws and doing the things he needs to do," Irsay said. "The truth is it's a slow progression and to say that he would hit a ceiling on Dec. 15 or Jan. 1 and he's not going to get any better, that's really uncertain. You just don't know."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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