Let's face it, anytime there is widespread turnover with an NFL franchise it typically spells doom for a team's success for a year or two, at least. It should come as no surprise that most expert NFL analysts, bloggers, and the fan community in general are heading into the Colts transition with low short-term expectations.
There are stark differences between the context surrounding the Colts transition and the changes made for a lot of NFL franchises though. Typically a perennial playoff team with the NFL record long-term regular season success who fields a team that is a front-runner for title contention for the better part of a decade does not drop weight and "start over."
It just doesn't make any sense.
When you throw fan loyalty to the players and coaches that helped make a run of success possible into the equation, the outlook can be outright ugly. How is it possible for the Indianapolis Colts to find success without players and coaches with the reputations like those named Tony Dungy, Tom Moore, Howard Mudd, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Gary Brackett, and Joseph Addai? The answer, for now, is that no one really knows.
If fans in Indianapolis take a step back and look at some of the players that are leaving and some of the holes the team has to fill, along with what pieces the team already has available, however, it is plausible that new general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano already have a lot of the pieces they are looking for.
Are the Colts in a full-scale rebuild? The obvious answer is yes, but the ramifications of that rebuild may be different than what it has been for teams in the past.
The albatross in the entire list is clearly Peyton Manning. Manning is the best quarterback in the history of the Indianapolis Colts and will be forever considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, no matter what happens during the remainder of his career. Should he go on to win another Super Bowl he may seal his claim on the greatest of all time label that some fans are reluctant to give him.
There is no doubt that from day one the comparison between Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning is unfair. The Colts are absolutely losing short-term -- and probably long-term -- quarterback production and performance.
However, there are a lot of reasons to believe that Luck will be a top 20, maybe even top 15 quarterback at season open. He will make mistakes and have some growing pains to experience like all young quarterbacks do, but he should be able to produce at levels high enough to keep the Colts offense competitive -- at least at his position.
Marvin Harrison is a future Hall of Famer and the greatest wide receiver in Colts history. Finding another Marvin Harrison is going to be extremely difficult. They do not come around often. Of course, Harrison hasn't been with the team for years so including him is simply an acknowledgement to his greatness. The team had the talent to win championships even after he departed, and should have won the Super Bowl against the Saints following the 2009 season.
Consider that Dallas Clark started only 16 games over his final two seasons due to a hand issue that had a noticeable impact on his ability to secure the football. Consider also that Jacob Tamme stepped in for Clark in 2010 and was able to produce on a Clark-like level due to his athleticism and experience working in the old Colts system. Both players were high-impact offensive weapons who, when handcuffed to one another, provided Peyton Manning with excellent weapons to stretch the middle of the field.
Losing Clark hurt more than losing Jacob Tamme from a fan loyalty perspective but there is little doubt that the player who Indianapolis is really replacing is Tamme. Does that sound like a task that is so difficult to fulfill?
Jeff Saturday was the most important part of the Colts offesnsive line under the control of Peyton Manning. He was the quarterback and the captain of holding the unit together, communicating on defensive assignments and movements when necessary, and may end up in the Hall of Fame. However, over the past two seasons Saturday has noticeably suffered against bigger and strong defensive tackles who did not give him as much fits earlier in his career. Too often he was beaten by younger and more athletic defenders who could take advantage of his age. Add the fact that Manning is no longer leading the old Indianapolis offense and moving on from Saturday simply makes sense.
Gary Brackett is the kind of player that just about anyone should love. He is undersized, came from no where, walked on in college, and made the team as an undrafted free agent. For him to become a defensive captain and one of the most important leaders for the Colts defense during his career is a fantastic story. But Brackett missed almost all of the 2011 season and was outplayed by his second-year replacement Pat Angerer. Throw in a scheme switch that does not fit Brackett's experience and size, and losing him is not a major blow to the team's short- and long-term future.
Joseph Addai was the perfect running back for the old Colts offensive scheme, both in terms of blocking and producing. However, over the last two seasons Addai started only 16 games, never broke 500 rushing yards, and dropped off significantly as an outlet in the passing game. There are a lot of reasons Addai's production dropped, not all of those reasons are things he could control, but replacing him becomes possible if the blocking scheme changes -- and all indications are that it will change significantly.
The other big loss in free agency was wide receiver Pierre Garcon. 2011 gave Garcon a chance to prove to the NFL that he could be sure-handed and make a difference in a horrible offense with terrible quarterbacks throwing to him. His production in 2011 earned him a ridiculously high contract with the Washington Redskins that the Colts could not and should not have matched. Still, losing Garcon means losing the team's second -- arguably first -- receiver.
The coaching staff turnover has been happening gradually as coaches have either retired or taken smaller roles with other teams. How or why exactly all of the changes occurred are not completely clear in each situation but there are some things fans should honestly keep in mind when they're considering the changes with the coaching staff.
I have stated more than once that Tony Dungy's reputation as a Colts head coach has been skewed by history. Winning the Super Bowl in 2006 is certainly an amazing accomplishment and something fans should be proud of. Questioning Tony Dungy's moral or ethical positions is certainly a waste of anyone's time as it should be clear to all at this point that he is a wonderful man. With that backdrop in mind, though, fans should not so quickly forget how frustrated much of the fan community was with Dungy's conserative play-calling in key situations, his calm demeanor even when some in the community thought it was time to show some emotion, and some of his game time decision-making. Many of the complaints that are so easy for fans to remember after Jim Caldwell took over as head coach were the same complaints the fan community was throwing at Dungy prior to the Super Bowl win.
Tom Moore is a legendary offensive coordinator who has accomplished much in his career, and no accomplishment is greater than the work he did with Peyton Manning. He did a fantastic job creating an offensive scheme with Manning, for Manning, that gave competitors fits, allowed Manning's natural abilities as a field leader to shine, and kept things simple enough to allow for on-field adjustments and audibles on a level that few team's could successfully pull off. However, Moore's influence on game-time decisions gradually declined as Manning got more experience, and even Moore often earned criticism as a dreadfully conservative offensive play-caller during key situations in games.
Howard Mudd put together an offensive line that was known for being undersized, cheap, and excellent at limiting sacks. His offensive lines were also known for getting dominated on running attempts, and for requiring a running back with excellent blocking skills to make up for their physical shortcomings. In the Manning offense those kinds of lines worked, in no small part because Manning gets rid of the ball so fast, but moving on to a rookie quarterback who is more used to working with a balanced offense that requires running, play-action, uses a fullback, and keeps defenses off-balance means moving on to a more balanced offensive line scheme and player philosophy.
There is no doubt that the Colts have lost a great deal of talent and experience from key positions both on the sidelines and on the field, but who is replacing those names, that talent, and who will take the Colts into the future? Tomorrow Colts Authority will take a look at what fans should expect and not expect in the team's near future.
I remain optimistic for a 'quick' rebuild but I have to be realistic about this, I think we all do. Granted this is the NFL and quick turnarounds are possible and even commonplace. However Colts fans cant simply cast their hopes and expectations into this notion, a look at the roster and the direction of the new coaching staff/Grigson reveals a inmistakable truth. This will take time. I see the Colts picking in the top 5 next year and potentially-hopefully not-in the top 10 the year after that. There are just too many holes and question marks.
I think the 2012 Colts can be competent on offense but this is based on a pending infusion of talent into the receiving core. Reggie Wayne should be a decent #1 for Luck if onlyl for another 2-3 years; quietly one of the best moves of any NFL team this offseason I think was bringing him back. Collie, Avery and Blair White? I'm not convinced. Collie as a #2 does not inspire confidence to say the least, I think he offers the most as a 3rd option. I actually really like the Avery signing but as everyone has already mentioned, hold your breath. If he can regain some of his rookie/soph form then its a cheap pick up for a guy who could provide a spark to our passing game. Starting TE looks like it will come from the draft... I pray. RB's wont be special but I like Delone Carter and I think Brown could surprise some people here. If he can stick around for 16 games he is definitely capable of breaking 1,000. Grigson so far has one me over if only for his attention to the o line, which was long overdue under the previous regime and Castonzo/Ijilana was too little too late. Sending players like Linkenbach (how is he in the NFL?) out to start was embarassing to watch.
All in all, I like the foundation for Luck and while we wont hang around in any shootouts the offense should be night and day better than the incompetent unit directed by the well oiled and fine tuned 3 and out machine that was Curtis Painter.
Defense? Enough of the holdover personnel has a chance for success in the 3-4 and hybrid looks Pagano and Manusky want to install but Peyton for President I think you nailed it. By the time our weakness are strengths our current strenghts will be weakness. The true defense that Pagano evnivisions will take years. However, I like Frathis as an OLB tandem and just because were switching to a 3-4 I doubt we see either drop into coverage much at all. Granted, that opens concerns in coverage but at this point it is what it is, the defensive transition was not going to be a quick fix. I see us generating some pash rush and curbing some of the less potent offenses and weaker opponents we face. Anything more than that, well...
I think Luck has a good but not historic rookie season, we find out who's worth keeping around at running back and receiver and the offensive line takes a step forward-although it would almost be difficult not to.
Defense registers some sacks and keeps us around against the menial opponents on our schedule but wont keep up with the legitimate offenses we face or when asked to be on the field all game.
I think 5-11 or 6-10 would be pretty good with a 4-12 floor only because we play in the AFC South.
We have mainly lost people who were frequently injured. I think the colts are already headed down the right road. Wayne and Mathis were great re-signs. I am very excited about where this team is going.
I don't have a hard time at all imagining a quick rebuild. I think some worries that our personelle don't fit the new defensive scheme are a little over blown. Pagano and his staff have created their scheme with the current roster in mind. Nevis, for example. is a great talent, that people say won't fit on a 3-4 line. . I think Pagano has a plan for Drake Nevis. Sure, we need some more guys, but I like our chances of actually drafting some quality players at the top of each round, this year. We should find a few who can contribute right away. Defense is Pagano's bag, and I'm just not that worried. I give them until week 6 to really start gelling as a unit.
I think the offense could surprise fans also. The running game will take some of the pressure off Luck. Donald Brown and Delone Carter are going to be running behind some BEEF. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I have huge expectations for Andrew Luck - even in his rookie year. Maybe he won't enjoy the best protection, but he doesn't seem like the kind of QB who's gonna have a hard time getting rid of the ball. Nott only that, but Defenses will have to respect his athleticism. He will out-Schaub Schaub at the boot-leg/ roll out game, in his rookie year. I think Arians could build a beastly offense around Andrew Luck and all of the skills he'll bring to the postion.
I'm not talking playoffs, but I think 8 wins is totally doable this season.
@naptown_ninja I'm sure Pagano will adjust what he wants to do on defense until he has the personel he wants, but look at the defenses of the Ravens, Steelers, and Chargers. That is what this team will end up looking like. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, but the Colts current roster is a far cry from being close to having the right players to run that type of defense. Jerry Hughes is the one young player I think really has a chance to suprise some people. The defense is going to take some time to come around. A couple things worry me about the offense. No matter how much hype comes with Luck he is still a rookie, and has never taken a snap in the NFL. I have high hopes for Luck, but until I watch him play a few times I'm going to be nervous. The Colts receiving core including TE is as shallow a pool as can be found pre draft. Some of those holes on defense are going to have to wait if Luck is going to get some weopons to play with. The Oline has promise, but isn't exactly built to be a great pass blocking unit. I'm scared for Luck if they are building an Oline like the Steelers. Luck will not take the abuse that Big Ben does, and Big Ben is always banged up. If the Colts go 8-8 next year with 38 mil in dead cap, 19mil in Freeney, and a rookie QB, I'd be shocked. With two years to draft and a ton of money to spend, if they go 8-8 this year I would expect them to win the next several Superbowls from 2013 and beyond, because 8-8 with the challenges this team faces it would be one of the greatest achievements in modern NFL history.
I don't agree that it's plausible the Colts have alot of pieces in place. The best players on the team have 4 years left at best. Wayne, Mathis, Redding, and even Bethea, though his window may be slightly longer. I would expect all those players skills to diminish every year. It would shock me if Freeney was around after this year. Young hopefull players might not even fit this scheme. Nevis, Angerer, and Powers to name a few. The only young guys I think could shine in a 3-4 are Hughes and maybe Moala at DE or Angerer. Wheeler might have been one. I doubt all the players on defense don't fit, but I fully expect some of them not to. So basically by the time they find talent where they need it currently, they will need talent where they have it currently. I think the defense will be middle of the pack at best for a few years. The problem is by the time the D is getting good, Mathis and Redding will be ending their careers, Bethea will be old, and Freeney will be gone. As mentioned above there will be others that need to be replaced because of fit. The offense is a hot mess. Wayne is not what he once was, and will only get worse with time. Collie is decent, but his health will always be a ? and he hasn't proven he can play outside. I wouldn't count on Avery doing much. The TE position is as bare as one could imagine. Rather than asking how hard is replacing Tamme, ask how hard is it to replace a guy that had 60 some receptions over 8 games when given a chance to start? Not so easy. The Colts likely can't afford to pick a RB early, but Brown, Carter, and Evans, isn't going to scare anyone. I expect the Colts to spend a high draft pick on RB within a few years. The OL is actually the one unit I have some hope for. I believe Castonzo will be a fine LT. I like the pickup at center. Ijalana has promise, but is still an unknown. A couple strategic draft picks to mix in with the current group, and I think they could be a pretty strong group. Overall the team has a decent amount of talent, but with a new QB and different schemes on both sides of the ball, I dont expect this rebuild to be quick or smooth. I'm fully expecting a rough few years. I guess we will wait and see. I hope they prove me wrong.
The NFL is the most competitive league in the world. The margin of success is the thnnest in professional team sports and the rules are set up tp prevent a New York Yankee/Real Madrid team.
The fact that the Colts were able to have a decade of unpresidented success is because first and foremost they had by far the most valuable player.
Secondly, they had a proven and experienced GM. And thirdly, I believe Coach Dungy was adapt at creating an atmosphere of professionlism that was condusive to a wiining attitude and environment.
Now, I greatly appreciate the tone of this post and a lot of it makes a lot of sense. What concerns me is that every year teams hire new coaches and adminstrators. And they always come after extensive searches and come with great optimism.
But now we have to hope:
Andrew Luck is Peyton Manning. I believe that Luck will be a pro bowl QB for many years, perhaps even a Hall of Famer. But there is only one Peyton Manning.
Grigson is Bill Polian. Polian may have been a real SOB, but he had a rare gift. I think Grigson will be a fine football man... but it is hard to believe he will be as good at running a franchise as Polian.
Pagano is Dungy. Say what you will about Dungy, but he made winners of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Pagano may end up being great, but there has to be a reason he has not been made an NFL head coach before now.
I hope that the Colts once more catch lightning in a bottle. But every year 31 other teams are hping for the same thing.
@DougEngland Drafting Warren Sapp, John Lynch and, most importantly, Derrick Brooks will make winners of a lot of coaches. I think Dungy did a fantastic job in Tampa, and he might have had input in drafting those guys (and a lot of the other defensive players - Ronde, Simoen Rice, Hardy Nickerson, etc,) but he and Monte did only so much. Having possibly three future HOFs in that defense helps a lot.
Good article Mr. Mock -- it helps lessen the shock and pain of having to adjust to next year. The Colts will rebound, slowly but definitely. There's still a lot of pride in the Blue.
@ManiacallySteve From a production standpoint, losing Tamme hurt a lot more. I honestly did not expect Clark to be around this year, but part of that was because I expected them to at least take a shot at retaining Tamme. Instead, they have Eldridge and some guy who couldn't make the putrid pass offense in Jacksonville.
big big big fan of the article. in a time where everything is all doom doom doom for colts fans its refreshing to have a realistic article with a hint of optimism. appreciated
This team lived and died by the draft , choosing to not use free agency to any degree. Last yr. you saw the results. Peytons injury was a major factor but I doubt they would have won more than 6 or 7 games with him.A total rebuild became necessary because of it.
@RvHauler1 Just about every position was better and healthier in 2011 than 2010 except for quarterback. With Manning, they go 10-6 or better.
@RvHauler1 You know who else lives and dies by the draft and doesn't do much in free agency: The Steelers, Packers and Giants.
Free Agency almost never works. Drew Brees is probably the best example (or the early-2000's Patriots - but even there their free agent acquisitions are highly overrated compared to the foundation that BB inherited like Bruschi, Law, McGinest), but drafting is easily a much more successful way to build a team. Most free agents are usually already in their prime, if not out of it. Drafting gets you the most good years out of younger, cheaper players. It jsut makes more logical sense.
@RvHauler1 The draft classes and the lack of free agency can only be responsible for the lack of talent on the field, and that wasn't the Colts only problem last year. Playcalling was horrible. Perhaps this is because none of our QBs could make adjustments at the line like Manning could and we had to actually use an Offensive Coordinator on the sideline. Who knows?Defensively, I had to quit watching several games because of the playcalling. When we're down by 14 in the 3rd quarter, the staff thought the best decision was to give 12 yards of cushion on every play.
@RvHauler1 With a team like last year's, I'd rather lose by 28 with an aggressive scheme than by 10 with the kind of conservatism I seen.