Over the last few days I’ve become visibly angry every time I heard or read more Peyton Manning speculation that centers around his next destination. Not because I think he’s staying in Indianapolis (he isn’t), and not because I’m blind to the fact that speculation writes my paycheck (it does), or that people need hope, and right now hope’s name in the NFL is either Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning.

It was because with his health incredibly shaky, it’s difficult to fathom how any fan could push for their team to sign an aging and highly injury-prone player, and place him in a position of prominence. Manning is a legend, and a replica of his head will rest in Canton soon after he retires. But his legend status doesn’t change the massive risk any team is taking on if and when (most likely when) he becomes a free agent in just over a month.

That risk is still there, but it was just minimized significantly.

Hey, Chris Mortensen, is there anything you know that will make us talk about Manning more? Is there a game on Sunday?

This comes two days after Manning appeared in front of a Gatorade fridge and said his recovery is on schedule, and only one day after Colts owner Jim Irsay then took his bucket of room temperature water and lightly poured it on the Manning buzz fire.

The quarterback said he’ll be cleared, while the owner still used big, scary words to describe a big, scary, and rare neck injury. The owner also spoke on the same day that we received more bad Manning omens through troubling reports.

Now it appears as though Manning wasn’t just being hopelessly optimistic. The risk is still very much present, but much of that risk was based on people with little medical knowledge expressing concern over a medical matter (*lowers head*).

Someone who went to school for such medical matters and knows what they’re talking about has cleared Manning to resume his NFL career, and other coaches and GMs have said that once that happens, they’d be more than ready to pursue the four-time MVP if his salary bonus isn’t paid on March 8 and he becomes a free agent.

Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed the most recent procedure on Manning’s neck, gave the clearance along with two Colts doctors, and Watkins said he has an “optimistic outlook” for Manning to play in 2012.

From Mortensen:

The sources said Watkins examined Manning recently in Los Angeles and concluded the stability in his neck would have allowed the quarterback to play this Sunday if the nerves in his arm had regenerated to a satisfactory performance level.

Watson also instructed the quarterback to continue an aggressive rehabilitation path that provides an optimistic outlook for Manning to play in 2012. Watkins performed Manning’s spinal fusion on Sept. 8, and on Dec. 1 declared that the fusion had achieved “firm fixation.”

The Colts’ neurosurgeon, Dr. Hank Feuer, also gave the most convincing statement according to Mort’s sources, tell Manning “If you were my own son, I’d tell (you) to go play.”

Although it’s easy to keep adding to the insatiable rumor-mongering, there are still no certainties in this process, and it remains an unpredictable and delicate injury.However, Manning’s now reportedly taken his most important step yet in his recovery, with his doctors confident that he can be on an NFL field next fall.

Mortensen’s sources also said that his clearance today shows that Manning wouldn’t be in danger of more physical harm on the field if he were to play, but he still has to regain arm strength. Manning is “making progress” and he was throwing to Colts wide receivers Blair White and Anthony Gonzalez earlier this week. That progress may not be complete until one full year after Manning’s surgery, which was on May 28, 2011. That’s nearly three months after Manning’s bonus is due, meaning that as expected, the slow, tedious recovery process could severely complicate the Colts’ decision.

The business of determining what kind of Manning we’ll see on that field next September will now accelerate, as will Irsay’s decision to either rebuild and jettison free agents like Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon and start anew with Andrew Luck, or have one last run with Manning.