With the Peyton Manning situation still unresolved, a pair of recently hired Indianapolis Colts — coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson — are moving on with plans to rebuild the franchise.
Fresh off a 2-14 record, Pagano and Grigson have opted to let the Manning drama play itself out and concern themselves with getting the Colts back into playoff contention.
Ultimately, whatever happens with the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player — Manning is expected to be released when a $28 million team bonus comes due March 8 — Indianapolis needs to start the rebuilding process.
“We’re evaluating everybody on the roster right now. We’ll continue to do that. The staff is in place, so they’re going through that process right now. Our main focus obviously is on the 250-plus players that are here right now,” Pagano voiced Thursday at the National Football Scouting Combine.
“Again, just being here a short period of time and looking at the roster, there is still a lot of evaluation going on. From a needs standpoint, we’re going to look at all positions. We’ll take a close look once the combine is over and then get into free agency.”
Decisions must be made about a handful of key players. Wide receivers Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez, defensive end Robert Mathis, offensive tackle Ryan Diem, cornerback Jacob Lacey and tight end Jacob Tamme lead the list of 22 free agents.
Wayne, Garcon, Gonzalez, Mathis, Diem and Tamme are unrestricted free agents. Lacey is a restricted free agent. And then there’s the matter of four-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, who is contemplating retirement.
“You just let the process handle itself. We all know when free agency begins. We’ll just continue to do our due diligence, evaluate the roster and evaluate every player on the roster,” the first-year Colts coach said. “Again, we’ll go through the combine, look at all of these players, go through the draft and at the end of the day see how things shake out.”
Pagano would like to have both of the Colts’ starting defensive ends, Dwight Freeney and Mathis, back next season.
“I know those guys have been game-wreckers for a long time,” Pagano said. “Offenses have to account for both of those guys. First and foremost, we’re going to make sure we put both of those guys in position to make plays.
“I don’t think it would be very smart on my part or anyone else’s part to not make sure that doesn’t happen. Both of those guys are great players and have been great players here for a long time. Those guys are Colts through and through. We fully expect to have them here as long as we can.”
The same goes for Saturday.
“Jeff is a great guy and he has done great things, obviously, for this organization and this community. Right now, Jeff is just trying to decide whether he wants to keep going and how much gas is left in the tank. We certainly think there is some there and we would love to have him be a part of our program moving forward,” he said.
“But again, he is sitting down and just visiting with his family, his wife, and trying to make a decision on what he wants to do.”
Grigson wouldn’t rule out the Colts changing the long-standing stance of limited use of the veteran free-agent market.
“It really depends on the lay of the land,” he pointed out Thursday. “If there’s no talent out there in free agency that really gets you fired up, I don’t see the sense of going hog wild. But if there’s guys that you think can get you where you want to go, then you go after them wholeheartedly. But to me, to be active in free agency just to be active just doesn’t make sense.”
• The Manning conundrum — Try as they might to steer the combine conversation away from Manning and what ultimately will happen over the next couple of weeks, the questions continued.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Grigson said. “It’s something that obviously is not going to be a rash thing. We’ve taken our time.
“I know you guys would like to know more. Everyone would like to have this nailed down, but there is a lot of variables and factors involved. There’s a great player involved that’s near and dear to us and to the organization. We want to do it the right way, do what’s best for Peyton and the organization.”
“Certainly I’m not a doctor and don’t claim to be one. We’ll just keep evaluating as we move forward. I know he’s doing everything within his power to get himself 100-percent healthy,” the Colts’ coach said. “I know he’s working out and he’s throwing. He’s making progress and so we’ll just keep evaluating the situation and I think time will work itself out.”’
n Gotta have Luck — Grigson denied reports that Indianapolis officials have asked former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is expected to be taken No. 1 by the Colts in April, to sit out passing drills during the combine.
Luck is expected to undergo a physical examination and meet with several teams over the weekend. He will not throw.
“I have never said anything. Players are allowed to make their own decisions on what they are going to do at the combine. I have had no bearing on that, believe me,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect the Colts to begin contract negotiations with Luck either.
League officials said earlier this week that Indianapolis would be allowed to start contract talks today if they wanted.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me. We are here at the combine to evaluate players and that is what we are going to do,” Grigson explained.
“We are going to base a lot of our decisions based off of this week, so it really makes no sense to me to come to any type of conclusion on anybody, regardless of position, before you have your full evaluation done.”
n Training-camp question — Pagano was asked if the Colts were going to continue training camp at Anderson University, where it’s been for the last two summers. His answer was somewhat surprising.
“There are discussions about that. Nothing is in concrete. So again, that is like anything else right now, just something that we’ve got to tackle and head off at the pass sooner than later,” he said.
“I think getting away is great. You build the chemistry and camaraderie in going away to camp and all those kinds of things. But with the lockout last year, being back in Baltimore, and with a lot of other places, we had to cancel. We usually went to Westminster. We weren’t off for training camp and we still had a successful training camp. So I think there are pluses to both of them, but I kind of like getting away.”