View Photo Gallery: The spotlight actually is on Jim Irsay (center), the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, in the matter of Peyton Manning’s future. Coach Chuck Pagano (left) and General Manager Ryan Grigson will be free of blame or praise for whatever the future holds.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): In a joint statement issued on the Indianapolis Colts Web site, Peyton Manning and owner Jim Irsay refuted reports that a rift has emerged between the team and its franchise quarterback.

“We would like to dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us.

 Since 1998, we have enjoyed a great relationship, based upon mutual respect and trust. We have always been able to talk and address matters we’ve faced over the years, not just as owner and player, but as friends. We had a long talk today and we want to assure Colts fans everywhere that we are both committed to maintaining our close relationship and to working together through any challenges the future may bring.”

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Peyton Manning and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay continue to talk at, around and about each other, doing everything but seriously talking to one another about Manning’s future as their Irreconcilable Differences Tour rolls on.

The latest installment, after last week’s Rob Lowe erroneous tweet about Manning’s imminent retirement, featured fallout from an Indianapolis Star interview earlier this week in which Manning said that the Colts’ upheaval in the front office and coaching staff had “everyone walking around on eggshells.” On Thursday, Irsay chose to address that interview, after introducing new Coach Chuck Pagano at a press conference. He did so by calling the quarterback “a politician.”

“I don’t think it’s in the best interest to paint the horseshoe in a negative light, I really don’t,” Irsay said. “The horseshoe always comes first, and I think one thing he’s always known, because he’s been around it so long, is that, you know, you keep it in the family. If you’ve got a problem you talk to each other, it’s not about campaigning or anything like that.”

By the end of the first week of March, Irsay must decide whether to pay Manning, a four-time MVP who missed the 2011 season because of neck surgery, a $28 million bonus or lose him to free agency — assuming he is physically able to play. And Irsay has left no doubt that the decision will be his; Pagano and General Manager Ryan Grigson will escape that PR hit and will be free to rebuild the franchise, presumably using the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft on Andrew Luck.

Manning, in his first public comments about the Colts’ changes, said the atmosphere wasn’t conducive to healing. Clearly, his use of the expression “walking on eggshells” rankled Irsay.

Peyton Manning watched his team finish up the season 2-14. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP)

Later Thursday, Manning talked the talk back just a bit, explaining the motive for his comments to the Star’s Bob Kravitz:

“At this point, Mr. Irsay and I owe it to each other and to the fans of the organization to handle this appropriately and professionally, and I think we will. I’ve already reached out to Mr. Irsay,” Manning said. “I wasn’t trying to paint the Colts in a bad light, but it’s tough when so many people you’ve known for so long are suddenly leaving. I feel very close to a lot of these guys and we’ve done great things together. It’s hard to watch an old friend clean out his office. That’s all I was trying to say.

“I just want to keep rehabbing and working hard, and when the time is right for Mr. Irsay and I to sit down, I look forward to a healthy conversation about my future. I’ve worked too hard and have such great respect and have so many great relationships inside the building and out, and it’s incredibly important that those remain.”

Irsay had the last word, for now, at around 1 a.m. Friday on Twitter:

Peyton and I love each other,that goes without saying..I humbly serve n protect the is bigger than any individual,including meFri Jan 27 05:55:49 via Twitter for BlackBerry®Jim Irsay

Irsay will have the last word again, in the not-too-distant future and there’s not much doubt what it will be.

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