One of the NFL’s all-time elite quarterbacks is medically fit to resume playing after three neck surgeries and a season off, one of his surgeons says.
But the owner of Peyton Manning’s team pointed out in a tweet early Friday that the organization itself has yet to clear the 35-year-old, and NFL analysts said it’s still too soon to know whether he’ll have enough arm strength to compete.
The four-time NFL Most Valuable Player is “medically cleared to play professional football,” Dr. Robert Watkins Sr., Manning’s most recent surgeon, said in a statement Thursday night, according to NFL.com. Manning’s most recent surgery to relieve a pinched nerve – a single-level anterior fusion – came in September, sidelining him for the entire 2011 season, marking the first games he missed since his career began in 1998.
But Colts owner Jim Irsay, who has to decide by March 8 whether to pay Manning a $28 million bonus or release him, indicated early Friday what he’s been saying all week: The matter is far from settled.
“Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts,” Irsay posted on Twitter early Friday. “Team statement coming on Friday.”
At issue now is less about whether Manning is medically sound enough to play football, and more about whether nerve regeneration will be sufficient for Manning to throw the ball well, commentators on the NFL Network said Thursday.
“The nerve has been the issue for months, not the neck,” NFL Network reporter Jason La Canfora said. “I’ve talked to people in the Colts’ organization who said, ‘We’re not going to respond to the report, because we don’t see any news in it.’ … There are times where he has tingling, has the wrong sensations; he can’t grip the ball, throw the ball with velocity. There is no consistency there.”
Manning, who was cleared to start throwing the ball two months ago as part of his rehabilitation, indicated to ESPN this week that he planned to return to football and that he planned to talk to Irsay about whether he would stay with the Colts "at the appropriate time," sometime after Sunday's Super Bowl.
"I really feel good. I continue to make progress every day," he told ESPN's Trey Wingo on Tuesday. "Everything that the doctors have told me has been on point, which is encouraging to me. I just had a great day today with rehab, just got back from the facility, and that's what we continue to do. Just keep trying to get better. So far I have. That's the plan from here on out."
The Colts have more than just Manning's health and his scheduled $28 million bonus to consider. The team, which went 2-14 without him in 2011, has the No. 1 pick in April's NFL draft. Highly touted Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is theirs if they want him, perhaps making the thought of releasing Manning, who will soon turn 36, a bit more palatable. And the Colts are already rebooting in other areas, having taken on a new general manager, head coach and offensive coordinator.
News about Manning's progress comes as the New York Giants and New England Patriots are preparing for the Super Bowl in the Colts' city of Indianapolis. Irsay said this week that he will talk with Manning about his future after the Super Bowl.
"I think it’s something that I would imagine would go into early March in terms of us having a conversation. It’s a serious medical thing. It’s a very complicated medical issue,” Irsay said, according to the Colts' website.
“I’ve said from the beginning, it’s a two-phase medical aspect,” he continued. “Can he return to play at a really high level? (That’s) what his expectations are. That’s the only level he wants to be. Can he drill it (50 yards) in Foxborough in January when it’s 10 degrees outside? Is he going to be back to the highest level, the Hall-of-Fame level, he expects to play at? The second issue always has been the health and the risk of going back onto the field. They’re two separate issues. They’re complicated issues.”