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As consistently successful as the Colts have been for the last decade or so, there are still enough chinks in the team's state-of-the-art armor to make one wonder just a little bit whether or not a decline is possible in the not-too-distant future.
The most obvious chink would appear to be the current contract concerns of Colts Pro Bowlers Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea, none of whom were present at the team's recently concluded three-day mandatory minicamp.
The Colts went out of their way to put on a happy face at the minicamp, which received an extreme dose of positive energy with the decision to open the second day to the public free of charge at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But the absences of Wayne and Mathis, who each have two years on their current contracts, and Bethea, who has yet to sign his one-year, $2.521 million tender as a restricted free agent, could not be ignored, although team president Bill Polian probably would have liked nothing more.
"But the problem is we don't have a system," Polian said at the minicamp, referring to the NFL's growing economic uncertainty in the final year of a Collective Bargaining Agreement that has shown no serious signs of being renegotiated anytime soon. "And without a system, you don't know where contracts might or might not fit."
Polian did not, however, point out the obvious: That there was no way Wayne, Mathis or Bethea would come close to sniffing a new deal until the Colts first re-up with Peyton Manning, the franchise's undisputed centerpiece.
Polian said a timetable to discuss Manning's new deal had yet to be finalized, which brings us to the real deal worth noting: As long as Manning stays cool and doesn't make waves, the Colts' contract issues will ultimately become much less of an issue.
By all accounts, Manning and his agent, Tom Condon, are said to be angling for as much money as possible. And if team owner Jim Irsay is to be taken at his word, that will end up being a record-breaking amount. More importantly, though, Manning and Condon are said to be operating in a respectful manner, content to go through normal channels.
What Manning made perfectly clear at the minicamp was that his desire to keep getting better entering his 13th season (if that's possible) was much more of a priority at the moment than becoming the league's wealthiest player, which he will deservedly become before too long. If a new contract was weighing on the four-time league MVP's mind, he certainly didn't show it.
True to his meticulous form, all Manning did was continue to work harder than any player on the team at the mandatory camp, working overtime on every detail in every drill, no matter how minute.
Before the summer is over, it says here, Manning will get a new deal, and the Colts' front office will quietly assure Wayne, Mathis and Bethea that it will make a concerted effort to follow suit with them to the best of its ability.
Polian & Co. are no doubt facing a major challenge along those lines, considering that 18 other Colts besides Manning are entering their contract years, including seven starters in Super Bowl XLIV. But I'd be really surprised if there were any AWOL Colts come training camp.
There is, however, one other rather worrisome red flag — the early rash of injuries to the Colts' 2010 rookie crop.
Not enough credit was given to the Colts' '09 rookie crop for the team's seventh consecutive 12-win season and eighth playoff appearance in a row. That is particularly the case with third-round CB Jerraud Powers; fourth-round WR Austin Collie, who has quickly proven to be a Manning-like workaholic; and seventh-round punter-holder-kickoff specialist Pat McAfee.
This year, though, training camp hasn't even opened up, and Colts rookies seem to be dropping like flies. Third-round CB Kevin Thomas suffered a potential season-ending knee injury on the final day of rookie minicamp last month. In addition, the boot that seventh-round DL Ricardo Mathews was sporting on his left ankle last weekend after a Friday injury was overlooked by most observers more focused on the absences of Wayne, Mathis and Bethea.
Bad enough to make PFW editors reconsider our consensus prediction that the Colts will return to the Super Bowl for the third time in five years?
As long as Manning continues to work so hard for his money, we think not.
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