By MICHAEL MAROT, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning has received the OK from his surgeon to start taking hits again.
A spokesman for Dr. Robert Watkins said in a one-paragraph email sent late Thursday night that the Colts' star was cleared to play.
ESPN, citing unidentified sources, first reported Manning had been cleared.
The Colts contend that is nothing new because Manning was cleared to practice in December, a move that would have also allowed the quarterback to start playing again. But it backs up Manning's contention from earlier this week that his recovery from September neck surgery is on schedule.
"Peyton Manning underwent a thorough medical re-evaluation as part of a postoperative visit with his surgeon," Watkins' statement read. "As a result of this examination, Manning is medically cleared to play professional football."
Colts owner Jim Irsay responded in a tweet: "Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts."
Irsay said a team statement was coming later Friday.
The four-time league MVP missed the entire 2011 season after having his third neck surgery in 19 months, a fusion of two vertebrae. There have been concerns that the injury might end Manning's 14-year NFL career.
However, Manning has sounded increasingly confident about his recovery and told reporters earlier this week that he was not planning to retire.
He's been throwing at least two months, including a session Tuesday with several of his teammates.
Even if Manning can take the hits, there is no guarantee he will remain in Indy. The Colts owe Manning a $28 million roster bonus on March 8. If they don't pay it, they could risk losing him in free agency.
There have been growing indications that the Colts may be ready to part with their longtime franchise player.
New general manager Ryan Grigson said Thursday the team must put aside the sentimental reasons for keeping Manning and make a decision based on what's best for the team. Team owner Jim Irsay is expected to make that call.
"You can't do things to where you are going to hurt the whole franchise with other decisions that you know might hurt at the moment, but in the end they help the sum of the parts," Grison said. "It is a tough deal in this business, and it happens at every position, it happens with coaching, it happens with people in personnel and it is completely part of the process and the business."
Irsay and Manning are scheduled to meet again next week. Irsay told reporters earlier Thursday that he had nothing new to report.
That would be a welcome respite in Indy after four chaotic weeks.
Last month, the Colts fired vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell and most of Caldwell's assistants. The flurry of moves prompted Manning to go public with his complaints, which drew a strong rebuke from Irsay.
The two appeared to mend fences Friday.
And the Manning story has continually upstaged Indianapolis' first Super Bowl week.
Thursday was no exception. With speculation swirling about Manning's future, his presumed successor — Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, expected to be taken by the Colts with the No. 1 pick — came to town and told reporters he wants to start immediately.
A few hours later, Grigson acknowledged that he met with Manning for 20 minutes last week, calling it a straightforward conversation between two regular guys. New coach Chuck Pagano said he also spoke with Manning last week. Nobody provided details of the conversation, though.
"We're in a holding pattern in that respect," he said when asked if the uncertainty would prevent the Colts from doing business with their soon-to-be free agents. "Until it is (resolved), we're going to go about our business as usual."
Before the night ended, Watkins joined the chorus by confirming that Manning was healthy enough to play.
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