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Manning 'willing to take less' money to do deal, assist Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have made it known that they want to make Peyton Manning the NFL's highest-paid player when they complete a new contract with him. However, the quarterback is more concerned about winning than being atop the NFL's salary food chain.

"While I appreciate (Colts owner) Jim Irsay offering to make me the highest-paid player," Manning told *The Indianapolis Star* on Friday. "I told him I'd rather he save that money and keep whoever it is ... (running back) Joe Addai, (left tackle) Charlie Johnson, whoever that may be.

"I'm willing to take less than they've offered if they are going to take that money to keep players we need to keep and go get other players. All I want is for them to have the cap and the cash to keep the players they want to keep and to sign other players."

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady currently is the highest-paid player after agreeing to a record annual average salary of $18 million ($72 million over four years) in September.

At this point, Manning wants to end the speculation about any demands he might have and get a deal done.

"Today, tomorrow, definitely by Sunday," Manning said of when he wants to complete the contract.

Irsay has promised to make Manning the highest-paid player in league history, but even he acknowledges that's a very high price with a salary cap slated at $120.3 million. The Colts hope that by lowering Manning's salary-cap number, they will be able to sign more of their free agents.

"We've been in a lockout, and when you think about that, it's very difficult to get that (Manning's deal) done in two, three days," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "It's going to take a couple days, and it will be done at some point in time. When it is, we'll be ready to go."

In February, the Colts tagged Manning as their exclusive franchise player, meaning he would make about $23 million this season if he signed the one-year offer.

Contract aside, the pain in Manning's neck will keep him off the practice field early next week.

The Colts still aren't sure how long it will take to get the four-time league MVP back.

Caldwell said Friday that the Colts will be cautious with Manning, who had neck surgery in May, and will not push him too hard. Camp opens Monday at Anderson University.

"Obviously, he's not ready right now, but nobody works harder and is more dedicated than him," Caldwell said. "When he's ready, we'll turn him loose."

Caldwell didn't provide a timetable for Manning's return.

It's the second time in four years the Colts will open camp without Manning.

In 2008, Manning missed all of camp with an infected bursa sac in his left knee, which required two surgeries. He struggled during the first half of the season, but he led the Colts to nine consecutive wins to make it back into the playoffs.

Manning also had neck surgery in March 2010 but recovered and didn't miss any practices at camp.

The only other time Manning has missed even a portion of training camp was in 1998, when he was one week late before signing his first contract.

Teammates said they aren't concerned that Manning won't be throwing right away.

"I've told him to be as cautious as he needs to be because the last time I checked, we don't count preseason games," Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. "I can tell you this, there's not a player that works harder than he does."

The questions about Manning's health have been increasing ever since he had the surgery.

In June, Archie Manning, Peyton's father, said his son's rehab wasn't going as quickly as expected. A month later, at the family's annual passing academy, Peyton Manning barely threw and said he was being cautious with his rehab because lockout rules prevented him from working out with Colts team trainers.

Last week, Irsay acknowledged Manning might not be ready when practices begin Monday, a position he reiterated just hours after the lockout ended.

"You don't want him doing too much too soon and you don't know on recoveries," Irsay said. "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."

Caldwell said the coaches haven't had a chance to see where Manning is yet, and he's not sure when they will.

Manning isn't the only player the Colts have been getting medical checks on.

Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark has been cleared for full participation and will wear a splint on the wrist he injured last fall, the team said. Other key players cleared to practice are wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee), tight end Brody Eldridge (knee), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (neck) and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers (foot, arm) and Kevin Thomas (knee).

The team also said that wide receiver Austin Collie hasn't shown any lingering symptoms of the two concussions that forced him to finish last season on injured reserve. He is expected to be a full participant in practice next week.

"I feel good, I'm excited to get back into it," Collie said. "At this point, everything is great."

Except, of course, the status of Manning.

"Whenever he's ready, he'll come back," Caldwell said. "He gets himself ready faster than most people."

The team confirmed Friday that it had agreed to new deals with kicker Adam Vinatieri and safety Melvin Bullitt. On Thursday, the Colts also lost linebacker Clint Session to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who signed him to a five-year deal worth more than $29 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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