Irsay: Manning could still play in 2011

Sitting at 0-5, the future of 2011 looks to be solely focused on making the best of every learning opportunity and at least trying to not hit the dreadful 0-16 mark. I still can't believe I'm saying this about THE Indianapolis Colts, but it is, what it is. I know many of you have IR'ed Peyton Manning in your own mind and have concluded that he will not appear as a starting quarterback in 2011. To that notion, Jim Irsay would like to say, "Hold your horses!" According to Irsay per CBSSports' Clark Judge, Manning still could suit up this season to get ready for 2012, despite zero wins through five games.

"Each season connects to the next season," said Irsay, here for the NFL fall meetings, "just like when we were 3-13 in 1998 (Manning's rookie year) and were 13-3 in 1999. Each year connects, and there's a thread that runs through your team. You want to get better, and if you're getting better in December that can carry through to next year. "

I do understand Irsay's logic here. It makes sense that Manning could use some live action to get the feel for things to better prepare for the 2012 season. However, could you imagine the outrage from the fans if Manning suffered another injury? Screw. THAT. Irsay did make it clear that Manning will not return to the field unless he is 100% ready to go. This is obvious, but with the recent avalanche of injuries, I think there's some doubt about the effectiveness of the Colts training staff.

"I think people get confused," he said. "If he came back, it wouldn't be because we rushed him back; it would be because he's 100 percent healthy; that he's as healthy now as he'll ever be, with no additional risk to injury. "Look, we want to win football games. We look at this as something where we want to win as many as we can. We don't see it as risking him to injury. He would be 100 percent, and I feel … and Peyton feels … and the whole organization feels … that we're going to try to go and win every game as much as we can. But it wouldn't be a situation where he would be 90 percent, and we would be risking his health."

I highly doubt Manning returns this season, despite what Irsay may want to believe or project. I think a lot of this "confidence" has to do with selling tickets and giving fans hope for something exciting within such a heart-breaking season. I could be wrong and maybe we see Manning come back for a few games to get back in the groove. As the season goes on, this seems more and more like a completely stupid idea, but not one that I would put past the Colts. Irsay continued to drive home the point that Manning will not return to the field unless he is, well, the old Peyton Manning.

"The bone has to completely heal — fuse, to speak — and then the process of more intense rehab has to happen. Then, you have to make sure the nerve is firing, and he says it's feeling better. Then it has to be where he's making all the throws, where he's on the field, where he's going through intense practices and where he's 100 percent. We're not going to put him on the field unless he's completely healed."

Irsay is also confident that Peyton Manning will continue his career as an Indianapolis Colt and that his injury is not career-threatening.

"He's 35, and he's had this surgery, so it's concerning," Irsay said. "But I don't feel … and all the doctors I talked to don't feel … like it's something that would end his career. Anything can happen in terms of having another setback. But, at this point, the way he's trending is up, we look for him to be back, have three or four years and have the Peyton Manning era continue in Indianapolis."

At the end of the day, I believe that Manning will be his own deciding factor on this decision. With Manning being the workaholic and fierce competitor that he is, I could see him suiting up in 2011. Let's just hope that if he does, he really is 100% and that our unsteady o-line stays healthy and keeps improving. The pass protection from Sunday's game against the Chiefs was promising. The Manning saga continues… Editor's Note: Tip to reader Doug Schnabel for pointing us towards this article in the comments. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.