Nate Dunlevy looks at the new era of Colts football and how Jim Irsay is determined to put his stamp on it.
Last Monday there was 'euphoria' among media members and some pockets of Colts fans over the dismissal of Bill and Chris Polian.
Visions of a kinder, gentler franchise led by a front office white knight who would play nice with everyone, hire a high profile coach and always play the starters 16 games danced in the heads of those who felt slighted or cheated by the last decade of Colts football.
This Monday reality sets in.
Jim Caldwell is still head coach.
DeCosta declined to interview for the GM job. McKenzie was never even contacted.
It'll likely be a month before a new front office structure is in place.
The Colts are probably going to draft Andrew Luck.
Irsay seems committed to keeping Peyton Manning while he's at it.
News from West 56th flies fast and free these days as local writers are in sudden demand because for the first time in a decade, people employed by the Colts are suddenly willing to talk. We get candidate names and rumors flying back and forth and contradicting one another on an hourly basis.
Welcome to the 3rd Era of Irsay.
When Colts owner Jim Irsay dismissed Bill and Chris Polian, he took back control of the organizational identity of the Colts. His move last week had little to do with backup quarterbacks, 2-14 seasons, or bad drafts. It had EVERYTHING to do with the fact that as the season unraveled in Indianapolis, the Polians grew increasingly petulant and negative. You don't turn your back on 10 years of success because of one bad season. At his press conference last week, Irsay didn't talk about the record being 'unacceptable' or demand a return to winning. He talked about culture. He talked about fan and media relationships. He talked about new unified voice.
He is that new voice.
The First Era of Irsay saw Jim run the team as general manager from 1984-1993. For 10 seasons he manned the helm the Colts, leading them to the playoffs just once. Bob Irsay pushed his son aside briefly, in favor of Bill Tobin who brought in Jim Harbaugh and gave Indianapolis two seasons of relevance. When Jim took over ownership, his first act of the Second Era of Irsay was to hire Bill Polian.
Mean Bill guided the Colts to 10 playoff appearances in the next 13 years. Things deteriorated this season however, and Jim Irsay was left with little choice but to move on from the man that had built the Colts into a perennial power. The environment at West 56th had become so incredibly toxic that a change had to be made. It had nothing to do with winning and everything to do with creating a tolerable work environment. It's too bad, because most of us have gotten used to winning. From everything that has been written on the record and everything I've heard off the record, I can't second guess Irsay's decision.
I can regret it.
Last Monday, Jim Irsay made a clear choice that winning at all costs wasn't going to fly any more. The Colts would be remade in his image. No one cares like Jim Irsay cares. He made a promise that the front office would embrace the community the way he has. Mr. Irsay manned up and took the weight of the franchise upon himself. He would be deciding the coach. He would be deciding on Manning. He would be making the first pick in the draft. It's his team. He's going to run it the way he wants for a change. The Third Era of Irsay is upon us. The Colts will have a new power structure with one man, one voice at the top: Irsay's.
What the media has never understood is that fans like winning. They don't care about the press. They don't care about access for bloggers. They don't care about anything but wins. Wins drive eyeballs, clickers, radio dials, and page hits. The Colts are about to be a lot more media friendly, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any wins to go with it. Yes, it's fun for everyone and their brother to have the whole list of GM candidates just days after the announcement. You know it's a brave new world when Bob Kravitz is accurately Tweeting the list, breaking Colts news to the world. The flip side of everyone having the story is chaos like Irsay's odd exchange over Twitter with Adam Schefter.
Meanwhile, the biggest decision to face the Colts in years is upon them. I'm not referring to the decision on the first pick of the draft. I and many others believe that has already been made. I'm not even going to engage in any more debates on that subject. Unless and until I hear differently, I'm assuming the Colts are taking Andrew Luck. Despite Irsay's vague Twitter denials, I can't see any outcome but that come April. Luck is coming to Indy.
No, the biggest decision in years is what to do with Peyton Manning. When I read things like "Irsay will decide with his heart...", I cringe.
Keeping Peyton Manning on his current deal will destroy the Indianapolis Colts.
I don't say that lightly. No one has spent more time defending and extolling Peyton F. Manning than I have. Outside of Archie and Oliva no one loves Peyton so unconditionally as I do. The facts are, however, that unless the deadline is pushed out or the contract is renegotiated, the Colts would be deciding to keep Peyton and pay his bonus without having any idea if he can ever play again. Beyond that, there will be no way for the Colts to move on if he is kept and can't play. Peyton will be un-tradeable, uncuttable for three seasons. They will be locked into an untenable situation. It will be disaster. If he gets paid but can't play the salary cap bomb will leave a crater the size of the early 90s. No one wants to do it, but as things stand right now, it HAS to be done. The consequences of sentimentality could not be more dire.
There have been multiple conflicting reports as to whether the Colts even can renegotiate Peyton's deal. Some say it can't be done, others think it can. But short of a major renegotiation or at the minimum a moving of the bonus date, the Colts will be facing a decision that calls for swift heartless action. You can't spend $28 million on a quarterback that isn't healthy, and Peyton Manning isn't close to healthy. You can't make this decision with your heart. Your heart wants Peyton to ride a blue and white rainbow lined with gumdrops and touchdowns straight to Canton. To cut the greatest player in NFL history, an icon beloved by an entire state, the man who is responsible for saving the franchise, the best damn player you'll ever see in your enitre life, you'd have have to be the mother of all cold-hearted bastard sonofabitches.
If only the Colts had someone like that.
The Polians are gone. Jim Caldwell is still coach. Kinder and gentler has won the day.
The Third Era of Irsay is upon us.
Be careful what you wish for.
You just might get it.
On an unrelated note, I just wanted to mention the Kravitz column from yesterday. It was his best work at the Star, but eerily reminiscent of his piece after Dungy retired. Bob spent two years trying to push Tony out the door, then wrote this glowing tribute the day he announced he was leaving. Now, he's done the same to Polian. Soon he'll be writing a piece on Peyton.
He should probably try to appreciate these men more while they are actually with the team. Some of us remember how ready he was for the Jim Caldwell era to begin.
I'm getting this nightmare vision in my head... Jim Irsay decides he'll be making the decisions, and he becomes someone completely different.
After a few years he wakes up to see that he's turned into Jerry Jones.
Please don't let this be.
I just read Kravitz' article you mentioned. It was honest, but it also reminded me what a flaming douchebag he is. It is always all about him. If he would quit trying to be the news, rather than report the news, I would have a whole lot more respect for him.
@Peyton for President Isn't the point that he is not a reporter but a columnist? He is paid to express his opinions, which is why making the whole thing about himself makes perfect - if infuriating - sense. As Nate has pointed out, he is not a stupid man.
Regardless of his title, the man is a bs artist. I disagree that his job is to constantly stroke his own ego. I understand your point, but I think any public figure should have some integrity, and hold themselves to a higher standard than Mr. Kravitz.
@martinkroeger@Peyton for President TO me, that still makes it horrible. Note that part of Polian being fired is that he was not accepted by the local media (maybe a small part, but a part nonetheless). This idea that he's not liked by the local media is driven, in turn, by bullshit like what Kravitz writes. It might get Kravitz more reads, but if his garbage in any way played a part in Polian leaving, it's unforgivable in my book.
is it that he was disliked or that he gave them reason to dislike him? Was Irsay upset with the result or the way that result came about? We dont know. Their dislike was clearly earned. The Indy media is pretty slurpy compared to some east coast hot beds. In Richards,, Wilson, Chappel and Kravitz we are not talking about Howard Eskine or the Mad Dog. Polian was imperious and dismissive long before the Indy press took off their kid gloves. Not saying who is right or wrong here, just pointing out that he did his part to antagonize the Star boys. @dansvirsky @martinkroeger @Peyton for President
I know this is kind of off the subject but I'm curious about something. What would be more acceptable to Colts fans in Indy?
1. The Pats showing up to play the Superbowl in at Lucas Oil and getting routed.
2. The Pats not making the Superbowl at all.
I'm hoping for them to make it there and then get throttled.
@DavidBecker Can I vote for option 3?
3. The Pats make it to the Superbowl, Brady chokes on a chicken bone, Welker and Gronk have career-ending injuries, Belichick gets caught with a steamer trunk full of the opposing team's practice tapes and they lose by 97. At the end of the game, Peyton Manning runs out onto the field, throws a 99-yard pass on a frozen rope, bench presses an elephant, then grabs the mike during the Lombardi presentation to announce that he's 100% healthy, ready to play and that Irsay just promised he'd trade the #1 pick to Cleveland.
I mean, as long as we're making up hypotheticals.
I dont think anyone has offered him the Colts gig so that part is a non issue. @pierrezombie
@pierrezombie Well, pz, looks like our new GM isn´t Irsay´s last choice (Grigson is apparently the new head honcho, although I haven´t been able to find the confirmation yet). It remains to be seen if he´s the best choice, or even a good one.
I know. WTF is Fisher thinking? The Dolphins? Somehow, having Matt Moore and Reggie Bush vs. the Pats twice a year looks like a better gig than our franchise... kill me now.
I fear Irsay's whole "I'll hire a coach then a GM or vice versa, whatever, because I'm an intuitive gambler" routine will backfire and he'll end up with his last choice for both.
@pierrezombie@Goéland You should definitely be wishing that for the Colts 2012 HC. Who, by the way, probably won´t be Fisher, given how he´s now deciding between the Rams and Dolphins. Which might be a good thing or a bad one, depending on your point of view, but it seems clear to me the Polian firings scared him away from the Colts. It really looks like Indy is not the dream situation some made it out to be, despite the supposedly irresistible lure of the 1st pick and the universal relief over Meanie Bill´s departure. And if it´s not the case for GMs, it likely isn´t for coaches either. I wish that would get through some people´s skulls and make them temper their expectations that Luck is the greatest thing to happen to this franchise. No, he doesn´t shoot rainbows out of his eyebrows, people. Peyton, on the other hand, does shoot lasers out of his forehead.
They pay the bonus! Genius. Let's stick them with extensions for Wayne and Mathis while we're at it. And they have to go for every 4th & 2 for the next decade, regardless of field position or game situation. Oh wait... maybe I should be wishing that on Jim Caldwell, 2012 edition.
@Goeland Awesome. Let's leave out the roster bonus business this time too, eh? So freaking confusing...
@Peyton for President They need to flame out and leave the screen (only reason I don´t say "this planet" is because Vinatieri was once in their midst) as soon as possible.
@DavidBecker I want them to lose as earlier as possible.
I just want to say on the record somewhere, I am absolutely TERRIFIED of what Irsay might do from here on out. I'll feel better if he hires a good GM and turns over ALL personnel decisions but if he really is going to be heavily involved and based decisions on "heart" and fan reaction, god we are screwed.
I agree looking back but not forwards. What I mean is that he took a look at the deterioration of the Polian relations with pretty much everyone (media, fans employees) and decided he would not/could not tolerate that any longer. I am not convinced that he intends to step on the next guy's toes as much as you think he will. I think anyone making a new hire will keep them on a shorter leash until a comfort level is built but that is different.
If the environment inside the Colts was so toxic as many have said, it seems suprising that the toxicity never seemed to reach the locker room. One thing I learned this year is the Colts are a classy, classy bunch. No finger pointing, no blaming anyone other than themselves. That is pretty rare in todays NFL.
It did seem fairly obvious that a lot of the players were not big fans of Polian.
If euphoric means feeling like you want to throw up, then I was definitely feeling euphoric when I heard the news.
Your description of Irsay as the one voice of the Colts organization is really making me uncomfortable, Nate. It sounds like, even if he won´t usurp a GM´s role, he wants to depart as much as possible from the previous model, which had unparalleled success. I have a bad feeling about this. And you advocating for the release of Peyton (which, I agree with mattshedd, only makes sense if you´re certain that he is far, far from being able to play, which I don´t understand given the information that has circulated)? It´s not even breaking my heart anymore. I feel like I´ve entered the cold pits of despair, where everything as far as the eye can go is bleak and void of life. I´m reduced to being convinced you´re wrong, just completely wrong. This is not the end Peyton deserves. Can things really turn out this badly because of an offseason physical event, that wasn´t even a devastating hit, a torn ACL, a monumental concussion? I´m in disbelief. And for the record, I hate Kravitz with the intensity of a hundred fiery disdainful honey badgers. His dishonesty is the worst of disgraces.
Regarding Manning's health, I always have the feeling that Nate knows something he is not telling us. Because to me, now that his neck has fused properly (as reported) why the hell won't the nerve regenerate and Peyton be fine for 2012?
And would this be an issue if Luck were not involved in this draft? If for example, if this were the year that Suh was coming out? Would in that scenario, the Colts be moving forward with no concerns at all about Peyton?
Perhaps I am too sensitive to this, but I have gotten the feeling from the coverage at ESPN and comments all over the internet, that reporters and bloggers and talking heads... don't want to see Manning come back. I understand Wormtongue Kravitz, who wants Peyton's scalp almost as bad as he wanted BP's, but the rest I don't understand.
The NFL is a bettter place with Peyton Manning in it. It's almost like there is this feeling that if he comes back and the Colts immediately become relevant again, that that will take hime to a whole new level of appreciation that outside Colts Nation, people don't want to see him attain.
@DougEngland Agreed on the first comment. From the public information, it seems like everything is going fine with Manning and it's at least a 50/50 shot. Nate has been writing for several months now as though it's a 10/90 chance he comes back. I hope it's just a personality trait of Nate's, to keep expectations low and be pessimistic, rather than based on stuff he knows. But that's just because of my own personality trait of optimism.
there are always a certain number of bottom feeders who just want to pull someone down because they are at the top. Peyton and many other colts never produced the juicy stories of a TO, or Ocho Cinco etc.. so of course they are happy to make a story of this.
I think everyone is at wait and see with how Peyton heals. But if he was starting to throw, that seem to me things are going well..
@DougEngland Your hypothetical Suh scenario is one I have often thought of. Remove Luck of the equation one second. Would there be a craze to get rid of Manning then? Would that happen if the top-rated QB was someone like Stafford? Would people better keep Manning´s career in perspective? Is this year really about Luck´s specialness, or is it about some people´s desire to close the Manning era and its boring predictability of consistent excellence and substitute it for some new, juicy uncertainties and its contrived headlines? I just can´t understand what motivates the people who want to see Manning gone, and I wish I could make sense of it. Thinking it´s the best because of money concerns is rational, but those who are eager for it just leave me dumbfounded. I wish I could understand why people believe Wormtongue, then maybe I could help counteract his toxic effects.
DZ, I know you are not one to boast... but congratualtions on Barry Larkin getting into the Hall of Fame as you predicted.
So what happens to Manning's salary against the cap if he retires? Is this not the most likely scenario in the case that he can't play? Can they not game the system by having him retire for another year and then "Favre-ing" it up after?
Thanks for the info guys. Not the answer I wanted... but thanks all the same!
Not sure about this current CBA, but in the old CBA you could not escape bonus money by retiring. If you retire, the team you were signed with incurs the entire cap hit immediately upon your retirement @Sinn0331
Correct. Last year's bonus would all accelerate straight onto the 2012 cap. They'd save actual cash, though, by not having to pay him.
Favring it up wouldn't work unless he restructured to dump the bonus. Otherwise 3/5 last year's bonus and 3/4 the 28m this year would both just accelerate into the 2013 cap.
I really worry that Irsay is going to try to have WAY too much control over GM type things. If I'm right, I think it's going to be a long couple of years.
I have to say that I very much agree and disagree (if that makes any sense). Yes, if Peyton is not recovering on schedule, you have to be somewhat calculated and part ways. However, unless you have inside information that you are simply not sharing with us, there is no indication that Peyton is not healing. There is no indication that Peyton will not be healthy enough come March, or healthy enough come next season. Are you aware of something that the rest of us are not?
Meanwhile, however, I think that you need to take the same perspective with Manning's deal that you have with Luck. I think that there is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, that can happen that will result in Manning being released. Irsay is committed to the "now and future" with his QB's. Manning will be here, as will Luck. It will be a mistake, but it will happen.
@mattshedd I can't come out and report that Peyton is not healthy. I don't know it and can't source it well enough. I have heard things from enough different people to give me that distinct impression, however. To say he's not healthy NOW is not controversial. That's the one thing we can say. I feel safe saying we don't know right now that he will ever be healthy. The idea that he's healed from his surgery and that's all there is to it, he'll be better in 6 months is more hopeful thinking than medical fact. It might happen. It might not happen. There's just no guarantee it's going to be ok. I've heard a lot of different things about his health, but the one thing I haven't heard from anyone is: "He'll be fine, no problem".
@Nate Dunlevy@mattshedd It has just occurred to me, seriously, this thought: What happens when someone who has has neck fusion surgery, the messing around with of the neck bones surrounding the spinal cord, gets a piledriver from a 300 pound lineman at full velocity. I don't care who you are, that can't end well.
There is also no indication that Peyton WILL be healthy enough come March, either.
It's only 8 weeks away and he's not healthy enough now. With the way this has progressed in the past, are you optimistic about his chances of demonstrating he's 100% in 8 weeks?
It's not ALL about doing things "the right way." If there was solid reason to expect the next ten years of Polian to be as good as the previous ten years, people would be content to do it the wrong way. But if you throw in a bit of uncertainty about that, it makes it a lot easier to start over, even if starting over is probably going to be a step back.
It might not be, though. The new candidates all have great track records of identifying talent. Pair that with the right coach (Caldwell? Heh) and things could end up going pretty well.
I like Wormtongue as a nickname, Doug.
One thing that's worth mentioning is that it's not necessarily in Peyton's best interest to get cut. Sure, it gives him some leverage, but he's not going to know by March 8 whether he can play next year. If he gets cut, he'll lose access to the facilities and the trainers. He's rich enough to just pay his own, but he's comfortable and familiar with these ones (and they are with him). As a free agent he'll need some receivers to throw to in order to demonstrate to other teams that he'll be OK. He won't have access to NFL-caliber guys for that. As a result, come July/August he's likely to still be somewhere south of 100% (hopefully getting close though), but totally out of practice and without a team or easy way to demonstrate that he's worth big dollars. That will most definitely reduce the market for him. He'll get signed, sure, but the dollars won't be anywhere near the same. He'll make the most money by staying in Indianapolis. Restructure to a deal that doesn't kill the Colts this season or in future bonus accelerations, which allows him to be traded after a year, and he comes out way ahead. As would the Colts.
Whether it would ever be made public, am I the only one that thinks Peyton will make the decision about his future and not Irsay. Well, let me somewhat amend that... don't you think Peyton will make it clear whether he thinks he can play or not, and "suggest" that Irsay either needs to stay with him or go with Luck?
No, you are not the only one.
But you can't trust him 100% to make that decision. He's not just going to give up and retire if he's not 100% by training camp. It'll take a long time of failed rehab efforts for him to ever give up and declare that he can't do it. That's why this March 8 thing is such a giant pain in the ass.
@DougEngland Yes. I´ve been convinced of that since day 1 of this horrendous saga.