INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Polian is already looking for the next Peyton Manning.
The Colts vice chairman told radio listeners Monday night that while the team expects Manning to return from neck surgery this season or next and to play at least several more years in Indianapolis, he is already contemplating who could be the heir to Manning.
"Peyton's at the age now where he recognizes and we recognize that his career is in the homestretch," Polian said during his weekly radio show.
"While we fully expect he'll be back and we fully expect he'll be with us next year, it is time that we give the quarterback position some serious consideration. We do that every year. The question is what pick do you use on a quarterback and how do you structure the contract and that sort of thing."
Manning is expected to miss at least two months and possibly the entire season after having surgery Thursday to fuse two bones together in his neck. It's the third surgery he's had on his neck in the past 19 months, but the only injury that has kept the four-time league MVP from starting an NFL game.
The latest surgery came 3½ months after a less invasive procedure was supposed to fix a nerve problem that affected Manning's arm. Team officials thought Manning would return in six to eight weeks, a timetable that would have put him back on the practice field at the start of training camp.
But the recovery took far longer than expected, and Manning opened camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He was activated Aug. 29. Then, after less than a week of practice, doctors pulled him off the field because of pain in his back.
That prompted the third surgery, which the Colts are hoping will clear up the problem. Projections for Manning's return range from two to six months, though Polian said Monday that Manning won't practice again until the doctors clear him, a team-wide policy.
Before the latest surgery, Manning had told reporters he wanted some input in that decision.
"There is a recovery period and when that takes place, hopefully, it will go according to plan and it will be complete," Polian said. "We are still left with the question about when the nerve in the arm, which controls the triceps muscle, will regenerate."
"The fact is he will not be allowed back onto the field until the doctors say he's 100 percent. His long-term health is our No. 1 priority," Polian said. "We constantly told him from the time that he came back that 'If you're not 100 percent, you will not be allowed to go out there.' "
Polian's comments came one day after Manning's streak of 227 consecutive starts, including the playoffs, ended in Houston.
Kerry Collins replaced Manning and lost two fumbles deep in Colts' territory in the game's first 15 minutes. Houston turned both miscues into quick touchdowns and wound up routing the Colts 34-7. Collins finished 16 of 31 for 197 yards with one touchdown and a rating of 82.3, a better rating than Matt Schaub's 78.5.
But the dismal performance has stirred up a new debate over the Colts' depth and whether the team needs to bring in another quarterback.
Polian did not talk about the two names generating the most discussion in Indy -- former Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard or former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer -- and did not say whether they would use a high draft pick on a quarterback in 2012.
Clearly, they are looking, though.
A team spokesman confirmed that Polian was in North Carolina over the weekend to watch Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The game also served as a family reunion for the Polians, whose son, Brian, is an assistant at Stanford. Polian has a home in North Carolina, where he plans to retire.
There are more reasons to start planning for a long-term future without Manning than the neck injury.
Manning, now age 35 and in his 14th NFL season, signed a five-year, $90 million contract just before training camp opened July 30.
The Colts believe in working out early transition plans. In 2008, they picked Jim Caldwell as the successor to Tony Dungy, who left after that season. Bill Polian has already turned over most of the day-to-day personnel decisions to another of his sons, Chris, now the team's general manager.
So finding a successor for Manning -- who nobody is pushing out yet -- would fit the Colts model.
"You look at every position, and Peyton and I did talk when we did his last contract that the time is approaching to look at new quarterbacks and we have to evaluate whether they could be starting quarterbacks for the Indianapolis Colts," Polian said.
"We took a look at a couple of quarterbacks last year, they didn't fall to us. But had they, we may have taken them. We're going to scout them (quarterbacks) as if we will take them, but that's a long process between now and then (the draft)."