INDIANAPOLIS -- It doesn't look as if Peyton Manning will go anywhere next season -- unless he's not healthy.
On Thursday, Colts owner Jim Irsay told NFL Network he couldn't foresee a scenario in which Manning would play anywhere but Indianapolis unless he can't play at all.
Manning has missed the entire season and has not participated in full team practices since having the third and most invasive surgery on his neck Sept. 8.
"I think the situation is if he's back and he's healthy, I see him coming back and playing here," Irsay said in a 10-minute interview before the game with Houston began. "I think the hope is that his health is in the position where he could return again. That remains uncertain and that's something that's first and foremost on my mind."
The signs are encouraging.
On Dec. 1, surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins issued a statement saying the fusion between two vertebrae had healed firmly and that Manning could increase the intensity of his workouts.
Last Wednesday, for the first time since having the surgery, Manning put on pads and a helmet and threw with teammates. He took snaps from center Jeff Saturday and worked with running back Joseph Addai, receiver Anthony Gonzalez and an unnamed receiver from the practice squad.
Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell both watched the session. Polian and Addai have given Manning good reviews.
Manning was inactive Thursday night and has already been ruled out of next week's season finale at Jacksonville. Caldwell also said this week that Manning would continue to do individual work but would not participate in team work the rest of the season.
The only four-time MVP in league history also is due a $28 million bonus in early March -- a prospect that had some thinking Thursday night could be the final time Manning would be on the home team's sideline at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Irsay said that's not the case.
"I don't see that being an issue," Irsay said. "I paid him $26 million this season and he didn't play and I knew it was an iffy situation. If he's healthy and he can play, he'll be back here."
Irsay also said the Colts would take a quarterback, Manning's successor, if the right one is available in April's draft. The Colts (1-13) are the front-runners for the No. 1 overall pick, a slot that most analysts believe will be filled by Stanford's Andrew Luck. Another possible candidate, Southern California's Matt Barkley said Thursday that he would return to school for his senior season.
And when the season ends, Irsay acknowledged there would be plenty to evaluate -- from the top down.
"I'm concerned we came out and lost 13 games," Irsay said. "We certainly were looking to do better. In terms of evaluating things, I think you have to look at the Texans. Last year, their coach was under great fire, Bob McNair stuck with him and now he's very popular in Houston. So when the season ends, I will evaluate everything. You know I love continuity."