Every year, I update my article about Bill Polian's Hall of Fame resume. You can find it in the side bar. My favorite fact about Polian is this:
If Bill Polian is the GM of your team, you have a better chance of playing for a spot in the Super Bowl than having a losing record
Because the team had a 'disappointing' season, Polian came under a lot of fire from fans. Specifically, there were three decisions that were heavily criticized, and Polian himself admitted they were mistakes.
1. The decision to cut Ryan Lilja coupled with no progress on the offensive line. Polian said they viewed Lilja as an injury risk, so they parted ways. Given the instability at tackle for the Colts all season, they clearly could have used him. However, it is fair to note that before injuries destroyed the team and the running backs, the line was playing better than it had last year with Lilja.
2. Drafting Jerry Hughes instead of Roger Saffold. I championed the pick of Hughes before the draft, so my criticism is admittedly in hindsight. Hughes produced little for the Colts in his rookie year, while Saffold became a starting left tackle. It should be noted, however, that the Rams were terrible running to his side of the field (much worse than Indy), so it's unclear if he would have helped Indianapolis's run game. Still, if Saffold turns into a franchise left tackle, it will be nearly impossible for Hughes to ultimately become the better player.
3. Putting Anthony Gonzalez on IR instead of Bob Sanders. Just before the Philly game, the Colts had to make a choice about which player they would place on IR. At the time, they were thin at safety, and still had three quality wideouts. They put Gonzo on IR and the next day Austin Collie received his first concussion that would all but eliminate him from the rest of the season. Sanders languished on the inactive list for several more weeks before finally being placed on injured reserve without ever seeing the field. Gonzalez's knee turned out to not be as serious as feared, and could possibly have returned to the field. At the time, the Colts knew they weren't serious contenders with Aaron Fransisco playing safety. They rolled the dice on Sanders and lost. Defensible? Yes. A mistake? Yes.
Strangely, Polian received some blame for not putting players like Session and Hayden on the IR sooner. Frankly, that's a weak criticism. You can't question a GM for pulling the trigger too quickly on the IR for one guy, and then being too cautious with other players. The fact is that by the end of the year, there were no players left available who could help the Colts. They were better off stashing Hayden and Session on the inactive list hoping they would come back rather than quickly putting them on IR just to sign another player...who would then sit on the inactive list on game day.
Polian had some accomplishments this year as well:
1. Trading for Justin Tryon after camp. The move to get the young corner paid off. Indy was swamped with secondary issues and would have been sunk without Tryon.
2. Drafting Pat Angerer. At the time, Jerry Hughes was not a controversial pick. The main complaint of Colts fans was Polian selecting Angerer over USC tackle Charles Brown. Angerer turned out to be a godsend as the Colts linebackers were devastated by injuries. Charles Brown barely saw the field in New Orleans and there are already rumors that the pick isn't working out.
3. Roster juggling. As odd as it is to criticize Polian's roster moves, it also has to be noted that with a league high 17 players on IR, Polian was in scramble mode all year to find warm bodies. Most of them weren't very good, but that is to be expected. Taj Smith, Dom Rhodes, Aaron Fransisco, and Cornelius Brown all contributed this year despite being pulled off the parking lot. Polian deserves a lot of credit for managing to field a team every week.
Polian has come under fire in some quarters in recent months. Frankly, I don't think it is justified. There has been a lot of hand-wringing over recent Indy drafts. While the selection of Don Brown has been nearly a disaster (Ziggy Hood sure would have been nice), the pick that really hurt the Colts was Anthony Gonzalez. Of course, Gonzo has played outstanding when healthy. Unfortunately, two totally unforeseeable knee injuries (for a player with no injury history) have derailed his career. The pick of Tony Ugoh was not nearly as bad as some people think. Hughes did not play well, or much, this year, but it's way too early to call him a wasted pick. Polian has also taken players like Angerer, Powers, Collie, Moala, Conners, Garcon, and Tamme who contributed heavily.
Ultimately, people judge GMs by wins and losses and by draft picks. The Colts had a 'down' season, and it's easier to blame the GM who picked the players than it is to admit that injuries destroyed the season. Going in to 2010, the Colts roster was as deep and talent laden as it has ever been. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see that talent play together often.
Polian wasn't flawless in 2010, though taking Hughes may look better in years to come than it does now. Despite a tidal wave of injuries, the Colts still made the playoff and still won 10 games. How bad you think Polian was this year, depends in large part about how upset you are with the offensive line. While I believe it was bad, I believe it was just about as bad as it has been for years. Indy could have won the Super Bowl with the line they had, but not after all the injuries. If you blame the offensive line for the 7 losses this year, then you probably think Polian had an awful year. Personally, I blame the defensive injuries to the secondary and linebackers for most of the losses.
2010 qualifies as 'lesser Polian'. It wasn't his finest year, but I do not believe there are 10 GMs in football that did a better job this year.