News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 2, 2012

Mathis, Garcon at top of Colts’ wish list; Wayne isn’t

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Expect defensive end Robert Mathis and wide receiver Pierre Garcon to be priorities for the Indianapolis Colts during free agency.

According to Colts owner Jim Irsay, Mathis and Garcon are both unrestricted free agents and appear to be the cornerstones for the team moving forward. Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, meanwhile, may be suiting up for another team in 2012.

Irsay thinks deals can get worked out with Mathis and Garcon. At least that’s the plan.

“I think we can [sign Mathis]. We’d like to get something done there. We have the [franchise] tag if we don’t, but I think we'll get something done,” he said Wednesday during an impromptu meeting with media at the Super Bowl Media Center.

“We'd like to have Pierre back for sure. We want to get something done along those lines. You could tag either Robert or [Garcon], but the goal would be to get something done sooner than later on those guys.”

Re-signing Mathis, in particular, might mean that defensive end Dwight Freeney will be asked to restructure his contract.

Manning update – While recent reports indicated that Irsay and Peyton Manning were expected to meet sometime next week in an effort to determine the future of the quarterback with the Colts, the team’s owner said Wednesday that the decision may not be forthcoming until next month.

Manning underwent neck fusion surgery Sept. 8 and has not practiced with the team since the end of the 2010 season.

“I would imagine we’ll go into early March and that sort of thing in terms of us just having a conversation. But like I’ve said before, it’s a serious medical thing. It’s a very complicated medical issue. There’s a lot of things that get lost in the shuffle in terms of really looking at the situation,” Irsay said.

“One of the things is you just haven’t seen this in an NFL quarterback at all. And when you try to consult doctors, literally worldwide, in terms of what are the expectations, what are the dangers, the risks, the aspects of it, no one can give you a definitive answer. It’s very unusual and it’s obviously been going on for over a year now.”

The question that must be answered is whether Manning can return to his previous form as a four-time league Most Valuable Player.

“Can he return to play at a really high level? Can he drill it in Foxboro in January when it’s 10 degrees outside? Is he going to be back to the highest Hall of Fame level that he expects to play at?” Irsay said.

“I think the second issue has always been the health and the risk of going back onto the field. There are two separate issues. They’re complicated issues."

Arians ready to work – Newly hired offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wants to hit the ground running as he starts his second stint on the Indianapolis Colts coaching staff.

Arians ran the Pittsburgh Steelers offense for the past five seasons and is widely credited for helping develop quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during his eight years with the team. Prior to that, he was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator for three seasons (2001-03).

But it’s in Indianapolis where the career of the 59-year old coach gained momentum. Arians was a member of Jim Mora’s Colts coaching staff from 1998-2000, working as the team's quarterbacks coach. As such, he was responsible for working with a young Peyton Manning during his initial three years in the National Football League.

Now, 12 years after leaving the Indianapolis organization, Arians is back. Interestingly, the situation that he is now entering with the Colts closely mirrors the last time he was on the team’s coaching staff.

“It’s kind of like deja vu. It’s scary. New general manager, new head coach. Hopefully Peyton can come back and get ready to go, but a new quarterback and a new beginning,” the York, Pa., native said during a Wednesday afternoon teleconference.

“It's exciting. I walked into the [Colts offices] two days ago and I’ve never been greeted better in 37 years of coaching. [I saw] a lot of old friends. I’m really excited about putting that Horseshoe [logo] back on and being part of [Jim] Irsay’s organization. He’s picked two great guys as general manager [Ryan Grigson] and head coach [Chuck Pagano]. Just looking forward to it.”

Both Irsay and Grigson have said that Indianapolis has entered a rebuilding period. After 10 straight seasons of 10 or more wins and playoff appearances, including two trips to the Super Bowl, the Colts’ fortunes dipped quite a bit in 2011 as the team finished with a 2-14 record.

“It’s starting over. We’ll put a great staff together and see who’s available. We’ll see what those guys do best and try to fit the offense to what they do,” Arians said.

“Obviously I’m familiar with Peyton. We’ll see what the young guys do best. We’ll find out who all the pieces of the puzzle are as we go through free agency and the draft and formulate a plan to put the best offense out there that those guys can perform in.”

In addition to Arians returning, the Colts also hired former Steelers offensive assistant Harold Goodwin as offensive line coach. Two members of former coach Jim Caldwell’s coaching staff, Clyde Christensen and David Walker, are expected to remain.