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Colts in no hurry to sign QB Manning

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Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian isn't worried over top draft pick Peyton Manning being unprepared for his rookie season. He also isn't overly anxious to sign the No. 1 overall draft pick to a contract.

"He's not going to fail to play well because he's unprepared," Polian said this week of the former Tennessee star. "He just needs to go through the bumps and the bruises, the ups and downs that every quarterback faces coming into the league.Polian, hired in December to direct the rebuilding of the Colts after the team finished a league-worst 3-13 record last season, said he is in no hurry to sign Manning or any of the team's six other draft picks.

"It will get done in due time," Polian said. "There are a lot of issues to work through. We'll work through them. There's no deadline, except (training) camp."

Manning is in Indianapolis this week participating in the team's eight-day summer school leading up to next week's minicamp. Counting the millions he'll receive when he signs a contract is not among his priorities at this time.

"That's something I can't really worry about. I'm here right now to learn football. I'm going to learn everything I can," Manning said.

"Sure, you'd like to want to get it done. . . . That's why I hire representatives to do that. I don't want to talk about contracts."

Tom Condon, who represents Manning, did not return telephone messages left at his office.

Five of the team's other draft picks are participating in the voluntary workouts, even though they haven't signed contracts. The exception is second-rounder Jerome Pathon, who was excused so that he could work on obtaining his degree. He was expected to join the team Thursday.

Polian said there have been preliminary conversations with Manning's agent and representatives of the other draft selections.

"I wouldn't think anything will get done with any of them until July," Polian said.

The draftees are allowed to participate in team activities until training camp opens July 24, even if they are not signed.

"They understand that they need to be here in order to learn the system, and make themselves better football players," Polian said. "The clear message is that if you want to win in this league, you've got to do what it takes. This is not a game that you can turn on and turn off as you wish."

Other teams also are biding their time in signing this year's draft class. The NFL players union reported last week that only 26 of the 241 players, and no first-round selections, from the April draft have signed contracts.

The Colts have $3.7 million from the rookie salary pool to invest in their selections, and Manning will command the biggest slice of the pie. Among the other issues to be decided are signing bonus, incentive clauses based on performance and length of the contract.

Manning's salary and signing bonus are likely to be in the vicinity of $10 million for 1998.

In recent years, the Colts have been successful in signing their draft picks either before, or soon after, training camp begins. However, a deadlock last year involving first-round draft pick Tarik Glenn developed into a significant factor of the team's league-worst 3-13 record.

Glenn was expected to be the starting left tackle when he was drafted, but he didn't sign a contract until Aug. 11. He missed most of training camp, along with two preseason games, and the coaching staff decided to move him to right guard. He had never played the position before and struggled early, along with rookie Adam Meadows, who was moved to left tackle during Glenn's holdout.

JOHNSON HAS CANCER: LeShon Johnson said he hopes to play football in 1998 despite a diagnosis that he has cancer.

The New York Giants running back met with an oncologist Wednesday and is "very positive, very upbeat," coach Jim Fassel said.

"My doctors tell me we have a good chance to cure this," Johnson, who played for the Arizona Cardinals and was signed by the Giants in March, said in a statement. "My family and I believe that with the help of the doctors and with the strength of our faith in God, we will get through this and I will be back on the field in 1998."

Johnson was diagnosed with lymphoma after a routine X-ray last month found a tumor in his chest. A CAT scan and biopsy confirmed the findings.

More tests are being conducted to determine whether Johnson has Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and what type of treatment he should get.

CHARGERS TRADE MARTIN: Bobby Beathard gambled again, sending the San Diego Chargers' top offensive threat, wide receiver Tony Martin, to the Atlanta Falcons for a 1999 second-round draft pick Wednesday night.

"This is not a fun thing to do," Beathard, the Chargers' general manager, said at a news conference. "It was a tough decision."

Beathard and coach Kevin Gilbride said the reason for dealing "Touchdown Tony" was the offseason development of receivers Bryan Still, Charlie Jones and Latario Rachal.

RICE RECOVERING: Jerry Rice is facing the biggest obstacle of his football career.

Rice, recovering from major reconstructive surgery on his left knee for ligament and cartilage damage, said Tuesday he wanted to do more during the team's minicamp this week, but the coaches told him to take it slow.

"All the hard work, all the time it took is probably my toughest obstacle," said Rice, who has scored more touchdowns than anyone in NFL history. "This is going to continue throughout the year. I'll be rehabbing the entire season. If it all goes well, I'll be able to get back to my regular routine."

CHIEFS SIGN PICK: The Kansas City Chiefs signed sixth-round draft pick Derrick Ransom to a three-year contract, the team announced Wednesday.

Ransom, a defensive lineman from the University of Cincinnati, is expected to play primarily on the inside with the Chiefs.