There’s a narrative many places on the internet (I won’t say where), that would have you believe that Bill Polian was a horrible general manager and an even worse human being. Well, I am not of this particular persuasion. I think Bill Polian was an all-time great executive, as evidenced by his 6 Executive of the Year honors, and a great team builder. I also believe that he was in no small part responsible for putting together a team that set an NFL record for most wins in a decade. He drafted Hall of Fame players and hired a Hall of Fame coach. His prickly demeanor and paranoid need for organizational secrecy aside, we owe him a lot as Colts’ fans.
What I also believe is that Bill Polian put the Colts in a tough situation when he chose to promote his own progeny, and a man with clear lack of top level executive experience, Chris Polian, to assume general manager duties of a billion dollar business, a move that smacked heavily of nepotism and left many Colts fans fuming after several failed draft classes and an abysmal 2-14 season in which the young GM seemed wholly incapable of addressing a deficient roster that was exposed when Peyton Manning was lost to injury.
The fanbase, to put it mildly, was not amused. Jim Irsay, who I believe is smarter and more business savvy than many give him credit for, understood the need for a fresh start and decided that, along with the rest of the coaching staff and most of the players, it was time for change in Indianapolis.
Enter Ryan Grigson. Indiana native, Purdue alum, former NFL player, scout, and eventually head of player personnel in Philadelphia. A young, unproven, but clearly smart and talented individual who’d been promoted quickly everywhere he went and who managed, through a conventional job interview process rather than knowing the right people, to convince Jim Irsay he was the man for the job.
Grigson’s hire was met by many in Indianapolis with a heavy dose of cautious skepticism. It’s one thing to say you can do it, it’s another to actually do it. Well, 8 games into the 2012 NFL regular season and what Ryan Grigson has accomplished here in Indianapolis has been pretty remarkable. In his first year as GM he has seen a team that struggled to win even one game last season march out to a 5-3 record at the halfway mark. Here’s my top 5 reasons why Ryan Grigson deserves executive of the year consideration at the midway point of the season:
5. Head coaching hire - This may sound obvious now, but 6 months ago nobody really knew who Chuck Pagano was. Pagano cut his teeth in coaching by manning a variety of assistant jobs at various colleges around the country, spending more than a decade in the collegiate ranks before finally getting a shot in the NFL as the defensive backs coach for the Cleveland Browns in 2001. His big break came in 2008 when he was hired by John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens. In 2011, with the departure of Greg Mattison, Pagano was promoted to defensive coordinator, taking a Ravens team that ranked 10th in total defense in 2010 to 3rd in 2011, his squad surrendering only 16 points per game (also 3rd). Baltimore was a dropped TD and a missed FG away from playing for a Super Bowl title in 2011 with Pagano at the helm of their vaunted defense.
Even with a season of success as a coordinator, many questioned the hire. It was a common hope that the Colts would make a major splash in the coaching market, perhaps taking a run at a proven Super Bowl winner like Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher. Fans were understandably weary of another unproven commodity after suffering through the tenure of Jim Caldwell, a man known more for his robotic press conferences, deadpan sideline demeanor, and bizarre use of timeouts in the worst situations, than for any success he may have had on the field (the handling of the Colts 14-0 season in 2009 confuses me to this day).
Fans need not have worried however. Pagano has proven himself both a charismatic leader and a sound football mind. While his battle with leukemia has garnered the headlines, it’s been his quiet courage and never-give-up attitude that have this young team playing inspired football and on the brink of a historic turnaround and unprecedented early success. Pagano may have had his dream job put on hold for at least one more season, but he’s left little doubt that he was, and is, the right man for the job, Grigson saw it and now we do too.
4. Aggressiveness in free agency - As has been well documented on this site and elsewhere, the Indianapolis Colts were a hot mess in 2011. The defense was an embarrassment, the offense was somehow worse, and the special teams, both return game and coverage, were a national laughing stock. The off season saw a massive purge of talent as some of the best recognized and most revered Colts players of years past were shown the door. A complete overhaul was required and, in this “show me” league, it had to happen fast.
Grigson proved himself a deft negotiator and talented pitch man, acquiring the services of quality football players like Winston Justice and Cory Redding, while maintaining the Colts bottom line. It was a real boost to morale when Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis both agreed to return to the Colts in 2012, a somewhat surprising move at the time, but, in hindsight, a critical one on both counts. Grigson navigated a minefield of fan backlash at every turn, critics and bloggers just waiting for the young GM to make a mistake. His acquisitions haven’t all been perfect, but given the circumstances, pretty damn close.
3. Trades - Bill Polian was a believer in building through the draft, and perhaps rightfully so (it worked all right for him), but he was also a major source of fan frustration in that he was philosophically opposed to improvements through free agency and trading. Not so with Grigson. Already in 2012 Grigson has pulled off multiple trades, even swinging one in the draft to move up and acquire T. Y. Hilton in the 3rd round.
Most of Grigson’s moves have been of the garden variety, but he did make some noise in late August when it was revealed by owner Jim Irsay that a “blockbuster” trade was in the works. This turned out to be rising star cornerback, and 2010 1st round pick, Vontae Davis from the Miami Dolphins, the Colts giving up a 2013 2nd round pick and conditional 6th in the deal. While the jury is still out on Davis (he has been battling injuries most of the season but has done an admirable job while healthy), it’s commendable that Grigson shows a willingness to move the needle when necessary, putting a premium on players who are proven contributors rather than hording picks in the hopes of hitting it big on draft day (something too many GMs assume themselves capable but so few ever seem to adequately achieve). It’s clear that when he said he wanted to win this season it wasn't just lip service, and his efforts are paying off with wins.
2. Fighting the cap - As good a job as Grigson has done rebuilding this roster with rookies and other teams’ cast offs, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the most startling truth of all, he’s done it with $40 million dollars in dead cap space, and that doesn’t even include the nearly $19 million cap hit that Dwight Freeney represents (some might say he’s been dead this season as well, rim shot). That’s nearly $60 million, of a $120 million dollar cap, tied up in players we no longer employ, and Dwight Freeney. That is bonkers. Grigson has put together a competitive, and some would even say playoff contending, roster with half the NFL salary cap to work with, now there’s a movie idea, Money Ball II: Grigson’s Triumph (the title needs work).
1. The draft class - Already the 2012 draft class represents a home run the likes of which we have not seen here in Indianapolis in quite some time, if perhaps ever. Certainly we must take into consideration the undeniable fact that these rookies have been asked to do more than any other rookie draft class probably in NFL history (5 of the 7 picks have started already this season, Josh Chapman likely making it 6 for 7 when he returns), their contributions being perhaps inflated as a result, but what this group of young men have managed to do this season is remarkable. Let’s do a quick run-down (relatively speaking):
Andrew Luck (1st overall): What really needs to be said? He’s been a stud of epic proportions, on pace to break nearly every rookie passing record in NFL history, and doing it with other rookies as his primary targets. The argument could be made that this pick was really by default, but still, it wasn’t a sure thing, had the Colts kept Manning this pick probably never happens. Give Irsay credit for this move, but I’ll splash some of that glory on Grigson as well (weird visual I know), there’s plenty to go around.
Coby Fleener (34th overall): This pick took some criticism when it happened, and is still getting some to this day. Many questioned why we would go heavy on the offense when our defense was such a wreck, well the answer seems obvious: offense wins games in the modern NFL, just ask any of the best teams of the last decade, very few did it with defense first. Fleener has been seen by some as a disappointment this season, though for the life of me I don’t understand why. Rookie TEs have a steep learning curve, when you’re used to torching college linebackers for sport it’s going to take some time to adjust to defenders that are just as fast as you are. Lest we forget, it took Dallas Clark 5 years, yes 5, to surpass 50 receptions and 500 yards, Fleener is on pace to do that in his rookie campaign (or he would be if he wasn’t injured).
Dwayne Allen (64th overall): Taking back-to-back TEs was a ballsy move by Grigson, and he heard about it from fans and critics alike, but taking the John Mackey Award winning tight end Dwayne Allen in the 3rd round might have been the steal of the draft. Allen has been incredibly productive both as a blocker and as a pass catcher (he too is on pace for ~50 receptions and ~500 yards). He’s also been a reliable red zone target, his 2 TDs are tied for second with another rookie, T. Y. Hilton, and behind only Reggie Wayne (3). Allen is quickly becoming my newest favorite Colt, not only for his tenacious on field play, but also for his precocious charisma and candor off the field, a rare commodity in a young athlete. He’ll be a team leader sooner rather than later.
T. Y. Hilton (92nd overall): Trading back up into the 3rd round to get Hilton seemed like a stretch, nobody really knew who he was (at least nobody I knew). Now, having seen the kid play, I couldn’t be happier. Sure he’s had some drops (5 to be exact), but he’s a rookie wide receiver, and has two 100 yard games already on his resume in only 7 trips to the plate (missed week 1 with an injury). He’s also shown a propensity for the big play, both his TDs coming on passes of 30+ yards. On pace to eclipse 50 receptions and 700 yards (those would match Wayne’s totals from his second season), Hilton has already proven himself a critical piece in this new look offense, as his routes and timing with Luck improve, look out.
Josh Chapman (136th overall): Ask resident Colts Authority mad man, Greg Cowan, and he’ll tell you that Chapman is already a 5 time All-Pro. The kid played his senior year with torn ligaments in his knee and still anchored one of the best defenses in all of college football. His moniker, “The Boss,” tells you all you need to know about this late round steal. After reading the recent piece about him in the Indy Star (if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read it) I couldn’t be more excited to see The Boss suit up in a Colts uniform. Josh is the kind of hard working character guy we all love, his selflessness to put off surgery and play injured cost him a lot of money but helped win his team a national championship; had he not been injured who knows how high in the draft he might have gone (Grigson himself postulated 2nd round).
Vick Ballard (170th overall): Ballard distinguished himself quickly, coaches and casual observers alike were singing his praises as early as rookie OTAs back in May. Well he’s only improved since. When Donald Brown went down with an injury, the Colts turned to Ballard, not 2nd year player Delone Carter, to be the starting running back. Vick responded by posting solid games against stout run defenses. In the past 3 games he has averaged nearly 70 yards per game and 4.1 yards per attempt. Not bad for a guy taken in the 5th round, running behind a makeshift offensive line. If nothing else his diving corkscrew to win the game in overtime versus the Tennessee Titans will be one of the plays of the year, and an all-time great Colts moment.
I’ve exceeded my 2,000 word limit, hopefully nobody out there is self-flagellating (unless you’re into that sort of thing, then have at it). Please feel free to leave angry remarks or hurtful criticism in the reader opinion section below, however, if you have something nice to say I’d prefer you keep it to yourself. As always, thanks for reading.
It looks to me like they who offer criticism without any due diligence in tape watching are entirely out of line and out of place - your analysis of the draft and the performances of the rookies shows cunning analysis and dexterity - it is refreshing finally to read the thoughts of someone who has his own judgement and is not afriad to work independently.
I say, if nothing else, pocket your writings and articles for your future progeny.. in order that they may derive consolation from it.. for you too received criticism from the masses.. and they will learn not to give a damn what the herd and tumultuous opinions of the majority say in response.
May your courage to express your views and great incites stay inflamed!
We get something out of reading the work of a man who goes through the shadows of murkyness and game tape to come back with worthy nuggets!
FOR HIS MERCIES AYE ENDURE
EVER FAITHFUL, EVER SURE
@Squadrons bright Have to admit, that's either a really good purchase from the dealer or some epic trolling.
I like the top 5 good things list and believe your perception of the ins and outs of good football management is great. Haters always come when the cream rises to the top Your the cream my friend ! - lollipop jamaal
It looks like I'm going to have to write a retraction article tomorrow titled "5 Reasons I Was Totally Wrong About The 5 Reasons I Claimed Grigson Deserves Award Consideration."
@Colt_Following Nah. There's an argument to be had on either side. Plus, bloggers aren't allowed to say they're totally wrong.
@Kyle Rodriguez You guys have worn me out, got to call it a day or I will lose what little sanity I have left. Maybe I'm just on the wrong side of this argument. The vehemence has caught me off guard but I guess that's a good thing, fans should be passionate.
I am certainly willing to admit when I'm wrong, I made some statements that were probably unfair (the Polian trade remarks were off the cuff and had no research to back them up, something I generally avoid, though I didn't consider the comparison integral to my point either way as Polian isn't in the running for any awards this season since he's a talking head now, maybe an Emmy). I still feel like my stance is valid, though not as much as I did a few hours ago. It was probably a bad idea to attempt a mid-season evaluation of a GM (though nobody seems to take issue with it when you do mid-season player awards), lesson learned, but I honestly thought my points stayed pretty in bounds with reality, maybe I'm drunk on success and missing the forest for the trees as they say.
I don't know that I could disagree with this argument more vehemently. I'm unwilling to judge Grigson at all yet, especially given that GM decisions need to be judged on the long term, not the short, but each and every one of these points seems down right incorrect.
5. The Pagano story is a great one, and it is heartwarming to see the team rally around the coach, but we have seen virtually nothing of him of which to judge his day to day effectiveness. We have no idea if he weren't in a fight for his life, if he could motivate his players. That's not to say he can't but to attribute this one in a million event to forethought seems insensitive at best. As for the rest of the coaching staff, they have been an unmitigated disaster. They are actually worse in game than Caldwell, which seemed unlikely until I saw it for myself.
4. Winston Justice and Cory Redding were cast offs by their teams. To call them aggressive free agent moves is to rewrite history. No one was clamoring for their services. Again, that's not to say they are bad pickups, but don't make them more than they are - stop gap measures to bridge to the new regime. Mathis and Wayne have been wonders, but how in the world can Grigson get credit for that. They are straight ballers that took a chance with this team (though I'd say this is one of the huge positives Pagano has going for him, was these guys willing to come back)
3. Trades - are you serious? Bill Polian traded all the time. Did he make big showy trades that made headlines and crippled the team, no? But he did bring in quality players via the trade. As for draft day trades, he was constantly doing that. This is just an ignorant point. As for Grigson, again, I don't want to judge too early but it looks like it is going against him. He traded a 2nd round pick for a player that was likely going to be cut and who has alternated between hurt and terrible. He's mortgaged next years draft, and the only thing that is preventing that from being a disaster is this team winning inexplicably.
2. Griggson didn't inherit a ton of dead cap space, he created it. He cut a bunch of players in order to bring that money into this year. That seems like sound management, but to call it digging out of a hole is just untrue. As for Freeney, if he didn't want to pay him, he could have cut him or renegotiated with virtually no penalty. He didn't do that. It may or may not be smart money management, but it isn't some handicap that was forced on him.
1. As for the draft class, I'm willing to say Luck is a success and I've really liked what I've seen out of Allen. Every other one of those picks is a big fat question mark at this point. It is pointless to even speculate on whether they are good picks. I will say that picking Andrew Luck wasn't his choice. That decision was made for him so he shouldn't get credit for it. Also, he had the first pick in every round. That is a huge advantage that his predecessor and many other quality GMs (Newsome, Bellichick, etc.) do not get. If he doesn't get a few quality players out of that draft he should be fired.
The real story of the Colts this year, is not that they have been able to turn it around so quickly, it's that they are a terrible team that is inexplicably winning. I attribute that to 3 main factors: the AFC is particularly bad this year, the team (Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!) playing their hearts out for Pagano, and Andrew Luck being all that he was cracked up to be and more.
Yikes! I appreciate descent but you may have taken my hurtful criticism comment a bit too literally. There's really no need for the aggressive tone when disagreements between gentlemen arise. I see that you take issue with my point of view, that's fair, but your use of bombastic language and overemphasis makes you sound angry (though why you'd be angry at the expression of a converse opinion, genuinely given, whether correct or not, is not something I would wager to guess at). That being said, I have no issue with you disagreeing with me, this is simply an attempt to raise some awareness of what I thought was a great job by the new GM, not an attempt to infuriate the fan base (honestly the fact that you find my relatively innocuous comment so "ignorant" and offensive is downright baffling to me). You may be unwilling to judge Grigson, and this is of course a mid-season awards exercise not a claim to know the future, but I chose to, and that's really all there is to it.
To address your objections.
5. I based my opinion of Pagano, as I've previously stated, on the way his players and assistant coaches have consistently credited him with the vision and direction of the team. He implemented the schemes and hired the coaches that have turned around an abysmal football team and made them a playoff contender and national headline. Say what you want about Bruce Arians or his play calling but to say he's been an unmitigated disaster is patently absurd. Manusky too has not been a disaster, the Colts have won their games as much on the strength of their defense in second halves as they have on the improvement of the offense, without key stops at the end of games this team is potentially 1-7 or 2-6.
4. I never made the claim that signing Justice or Redding were aggressive moves in free agency, what I said was that Grigson has shown that he is willing to aggressively pursue free agents, big difference. Justice and Redding were cast offs, as I say several other places in the piece, but they were deft signing for minimum cost that have provided maximum impact. Pars my words if you must, but reframing the argument doesn't make it any less valid.
3. Suggesting that Vontae Davis, a 1st round pick still on his rookie deal and a consistently top 20 rated CB, was in danger of being cut is asinine. You think Ryan Grigson gives up a 2nd round pick for a guy about to be cut when he has first waiver claim on all cut players? That argument doesn't hold up to even the most basic of reasonable critique. It's also completely false to claim that Davis has been terrible at all, in fact he's been our most consistent CB after week 1, don't take my word for it, simply look at the numbers.
2. He cut players that he didn't sign, that's not a mess of his doing, to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best. Where are those players now? Addai? Brackett? Clark? Bullitt? Either on the couch or toiling away in mediocrity. Blaming Grigson for the bad contracts he inherited, and had no choice but to take the hit on for the team's future health, is to rewrite history, as you put it.
1. Discrediting the performance of this draft class doesn’t even make sense to me. Fine, take Luck out of the equation (I did that myself in the piece if you read it), but through 8 weeks, and that’s all this is, a mid-season review, the rookies have exceeded ALL reasonable expectations of their performance in this offense. I won’t pull a Brad Wells and claim that not seeing that makes you dumb, but I will say that it seems to suggest a willful desire to see the worst case scenario and discount any measure of success.
This team is far from terrible, like I said, they have the highest strength of victory of any AFC team with at least 5 wins, that’s not a fluke. You clearly have your mind made up and seem to actively seek the worst case interpretation. Disagree with me as vehemently as you like, I welcome the discussion, but please try to keep it civil. Insulting my intelligence and claiming ignorance just pisses people off for no good reason and is flat out unnecessary. Defend your point of view well and I’ll consider changing mine, but hyperbolic language just drags people down into pointless bickering and is counterproductive to the extreme.
5. Manusky and Arians have cost the team as many games as they have won them, and up until the last few weeks the lack of 2nd half adjustments was embarrassing. They aren't an unmitigated disaster, but Manusky's accomplishments, this year and for his career, are very pedestrian.
4. Justice wasn't a free agent. He was part of a draft pick trade.
3. Davis might not have been in danger of being cut outright, but he was 4th on the depth chart for miami and PFF had him ranked 79th out of all CBs last year. FOA had him at 40th against the pass. Jeff Ireland was on hard knocks telling Grigson “It has to be something that’s going to blow me away.” right after talking with Philbin as to whether or not Davis is in their long term plans (aka "give me more than the one-year rental I might not even keep when his contract is up). Davis might be the most consistent of the Colts QBs, but he's been hurt and frankly the Colts DBs have sucked.
2. Frankly I think the blame goes straight down the middle. He could have spread out the impact over a longer period of time but delaying on getting people, but he chose to bite the bullet in one season. It's an aggressive move but acting like he didn't have a hand in it is specious.
1. This draft class is pretty good. I doubt there's been a better one this year, but I haven't reviewed how other ones have stacked up thus far.
The Colts have the highest SOV but they also lost to two teams that are sitting at a combined 4-12. Probably the most consistent hallmark of good teams is the ability to dominate weaker opponents, and the Colts haven't done that in a single game this year. Nate has written about this extensively. Another great predictor of a good team is turnover differential, and we are 30th in the league at that. We're Lucky Luck hasn't gone on an INT spree or the historic low in takeaways would really come back to bite us.
Most signs point to this being a bad team in an exceptionally bad AFC who've gotten hot at some moments and gone sour at others. Colts DVOA has offense in the middle, defense at dead last, and special teams in the bottom ten. Overall we are 27th in the league and we are there for a good reason.
@kasey_junk @Payton No worries. You're obviously a smart, well-informed, and passionate Colts fan, which I wholeheartedly respect. I probably overreacted a bit (I did ask for it after all), it was really just the dismissive language (ignorant being a rather emotionally charged use of wording) and sarcastic rhetorical questions that kind of made me prickle a bit, I don't like my intelligence and/or integrity questioned, but that's a personal problem. I'm sure you didn't mean any offense, or if you did I can get over it.
I will tell you that I try very hard, and I would hope have established the reputation in the community to back this up, to make my stories follow the facts and not make the facts fit some narrative I'm trying to spin, that's not at all who I am or what I'm about, so that particular criticism cuts rather deeply. Maybe I got a bit carried away with the success of the team in writing this piece, but it came from a place of genuine reflection and I assure you was not a premeditated attempt to further some agenda.
You ask good questions, and to answer them. If we were 3-5 I can't honestly say what I'd think, but that's the NFL, the difference between winning and losing is often razor thin, just about every team could chop a game or two off in either direction if a certain bounce doesn't go their way (or does) or they miss a FG here or there. I won't sit here and say that record doesn't matter, it absolutely does, but that hypothetical can go both ways (a Cecil Shorts fingertip grab from 6-2). I still think at 3-5 I would have a lot of respect for what Grigson has accomplished, I honestly love all the rookies he drafted, including Fleener, and I really am a Vontae Davis believer, I think that trade pans out big in the long run. Maybe I'm not writing a piece about executive of the year (that requires results in the W column) but I certainly don't think it would be far fetched to be doing something praising Grigson's first half-year as GM using similar arguments (you'll notice I only mention our record 1 time and that is in the introduction), though in hindsight I'd likely leave Polian out of it as that was largely irrelevant and only served to upset people one way or the other.
To your second question, well that would depend heavily on Drew Stanton. I honestly don't expect the Colts to win 10 games this year, if they finish 3-5 and make it to 8-8 I'm ecstatic with that, quite frankly the rest of the season is gravy. I understand this team needs pieces, lots of them, I am fully aware of the Colts many shortcomings (I read all the same stats that you do), but I also think this team has oodles of talent, both young and veteran that will only improve as the season progresses (and with $50+ million in cap space will have to sign a lot of good players just to meet the minimum). They've overcome massive amounts of injuries and are looking at a game they are expected win to move to 6-3 followed by 10 days of rest and recuperation. Could they lose to Jacksonville, absolutely, would I be shocked, not at all, though I'd certainly be disappointed.
Whether or not this team is legitimately good right now is not the issue for me, and is not the reason I wrote this article. I wrote this article because I commend what Ryan Grigson has done to make the football team I love relevant again, whether FO labels them 5-3 frauds or not. Simple as that. I truly believe that when the turnovers start coming (and they inevitably will) this team will be a tough out, maybe not a contender, maybe they don't even make the playoffs, but a tough out.
Ask yourself a couple of hypothetical questions: If the Colts had lost the 2 games they won by a field goal so far and were 3-5, would you write this article? If Andrew Luck gets hurt next week, how many wins do you think this team has at the end of the year? Is there a game remaining on the schedule that would be shocking to lose? The answers to all of those indicate to me that this doesn't feel like a legitimately good team (nor do the stats).
To me, this year feels like 1995, one of my favorite Colts seasons ever. That team wasn't good either, but they got lucky, played hard, and it was great. The difference is this time around we know what a good team looks like and we have hope for the future.
@Payton @kasey_junk You guys are wearing me down, two against one. I have to man up and admit when I'm wrong though. I got the Justice thing wrong, he was traded (by swapping 6th round picks mind you, so still a great move by Grigs), but that should have been in the "trades" area and not the free agency one.
You're also totally right about some of the second half adjustments at times, especially on offense (I think the defense if anything has performed better in the second half of games). Green Bay being a notable exception when they totally transformed in the second half on both sides of the ball. I still think Bruce Arians has been a net positive, even if his play calling makes me want to pull my hair out a times, he has these rookies playing at a high level and has shown a knack for developing QBs (Manning, Big Ben, now Luck, though I suppose you could argue he just got lucky with 3 great QBs, you could also argue Phil Jackson doesn't deserve his 11 rings, he's at least a factor). Somebody on the coaching staff has to get some credit, if you don't want to give it to Pagano then it has to be Manusky and Arians, 5-3 teams don't happen by accident.
Davis was low on the depth chart as a result of coming to camp out of shape, there was little doubt he would have been starting by the beginning of the season, I don't think there's much debate on that point. I have a hard time imagining Grigson giving up a 2nd round pick (a commodity that I believe is vastly overvalued by GMs) if he thought there was any chance Davis was in danger of being cut or even not being a starter (he had HBO too, and would have known everything we did and then some). I show Davis ranked 37th overall by PFF in 2011 (22nd in opponent QB rating), if you filter that to players who played at least 50% of snaps he's ranked 26th overall by PFF, I don't know where you're getting 79th. He was also ranked 12th in 2010 overall by PFF (11th if you filter to 50% snaps). No matter how you slice it that's far from "terrible." Davis also has another year left on his rookie deal after this season, so that's a two year rental at minimum, which is a pretty substantial rental, and if he plays well the Colts are in the best position to resign him. The Colts as a team this season are right in the middle of pack based on PFF pass coverage ratings.
Maybe the Colts 5-3 record is in fact an illusion, as you both seem to think (and not without reason mind you, I respect the work that FO does), but I for one think it's been a remarkable story, with more subtleties than a DVOA ranking can adequately illustrate, and that Ryan Grigson has done a stellar job managing a tough situation (you won't convince me that the dead cap space was anything other than a carry over from big contracts for injury prone players, and an absolute necessity, I give Grigson credit, not blame, for doing what he had to do and managing the fallout).
Good piece. Only thing I think Grigson has against him is the Davis trade. I hope it works out, and I think after a year in the system and around the quality of players (and people in general) the Colts have, Davis could make a turn around. But, right now, I'd rather have that 2nd round pick back. That being said - Grigson has engineered a team that most thought would be completely inept, and they really could make the playoffs.
@h09sierThanks man. It's unfortunate that Davis has been fighting injuries because I think he was really starting to show people what he was capable of doing. He hasn't allowed a TD since week 1 and in his last 3 games has held his reciever to 1 reception in 2 of them; he's only been targetted 19 times all season (7 coming in the first game). After a really rough outing against the Bears (in which he was expected to start 10 days after joining the team) it's been a steady improvement.
PFF rates him +4.2 in his last 4 games in pass coverage, that's solid. I think he has a ton of upside, and for my money I'd take him at $1 million next season over any pick we'd get in the bottom half of the second round (probably even the top half as well). Sure there's always the potential to hit it big, but the odds are heavily against it (I wrote a previous article on this at one point but it's not worth rehashing now). Davis should be, and I think will be, part of the Colts long term plans at the position.
I'm glad to see someone on this site finally post that the Chris Polian succession was indeed a big fat mistake.
Back in the 18to88 days the majority on here vehemently defended the hire. Well, its very obvious since his firing what the rest of the NFL thinks of his value. He didn't get a single interview for anything close to a top level position and finally landed in Atlanta as a regional scout.
He was given the GM job way to early and not due to ability but due to lineage, which was proven by his lack of value on the open market where his dad wasn't the one doing the hiring.
Bill was a great GM, but I cringe to think of the wasted years with Peyton at the helm due to one extremely bad hire born out of family favoritism.
@ColtsHomer99 He was interviewed and offered several high level jobs before he was named GM was he not? IIRC the whole point of naming him GM was to ward off other teams from trying to poach him. Both Atlanta and San Fran were clearly interested in him. Dolphins were at one point too. Polian clearly didn't do a great job, but do you think the Colts would have done much better in other years if Manning missed every snap? 2001 could have gone winless and 2006 would have been downright ugly with that defense and Sorgi playing QB. The team was constructed the way it was for a reason, and that literally could have happened at any point in Bill or Chris' career.
@Payton The "interest" in him from other teams was mainly conjecture and speculation, and he was definitely never actually offered a position. Bottom line is when he became a "free agent" he was not interviewed once for an executive or even management position. He was not under contract and could have been interviewed and hired by anyone.... and he wasn't. That was his true value on the open market... which ended up being just an everyday scout.
It's hard to say how good they would have done in the Bill as GM years. I had always thought that the Colts didn't give Peyton and the D enough talent. But it definitely took a downturn once Chris started having more and more of a say in the decisions made.
@ColtsHomer99 Actually he was interviewed by the teams I mentioned. Whether or not he was offered a job, that's still a pretty reasonable endorsement of his skillset (unless Bill called in some favors or something). A free agent who has as miserable of a year as Polian did isn't going to garner much interest. The team was definitely in a downturn, but I think it looked that much worse because Manning went down. The downturn is attributable in a significant way to him, but the Manning injury led people to believe he was worse than he actually performed. That's my $.02.
Your Moneyball II title is there in your own writing, just a few paragraphs later: "Splashing Glory".
That would make a ton of money at the box office, though it would also likely have a very high walk out rate when people realize what it's about.
I feel like the overall roster here is still terrible, so I myself have questioned people giving Grigson this award so easily the past week. The Colts are where they are because of two things: A. Easy schedule. B. Andrew Luck is way better than he should be as a rookie. The overall roster however, still is littered with holes.
I actually think that this roster is arguably underrated. On defense Angerer, Mathis, Freeney, Bathea, Davis, Powers, Freeman, Conner, and Cory Redding are all at or above league average talent wise in my opinion. I think it's just a matter of health and adjusting to a new scheme that is holding them back from being a top 10-15 unit, which they've certainly played like for stretches of games, just lack consistency.
Sure, Z-Bo hasn't worked out at this point and the Colts are pretty weak along the defensive line, but given the cap situation we are dealing with I think it's a better roster than could reasonably be expected. Even on offense there are some solid pieces beyond the obvious (Wayne and Luck), the two rookie TEs have bright futures, T. Y. Hilton has shown some great things, Donald Brown and Vick Ballard have both been solid if not spectacular, Castonzo and Justice are reasonable tackles, and even McGlynn and Shipley have been better than perhaps expected and Reitz had a good 1st game back.
It's not an embarrassment of riches by any means but it's a foundation to build on certainly. The depth has been surprising too, with no turnovers being generated and injuries at seemingly every position (Collie, Angerer, Justice, Satele, Brown, Linkenbach, Reitz, Davis, Powers, Johnson, Redding, Mathis, Freeney, etc.) and yet the backups have come in and the Colts have still won games. That has to be at least somewhat on the GM.
I also thinks it's unfair to say the Colts have had an easy schedule, at least when compared to the rest of the AFC, which is down across the board. Of AFC teams with 5 or more wins the Colts have the highest strength of victory (.455).
I won't argue that Luck has been THE primary cause of the turnaround, but the Colts have some other pieces too.
@Colt_Following I don't think the defense is anywhere near a top 10-15 unit. Redding hasn't played above average, neither has Freeney or Powers. The team has only played two teams that have above average offenses: GB and CHI, and allowed 28+ points to both.
On offense, the WRs have really been poor all season, outside of Wayne. The TEs show promise, but aren't big threats this year. The RB position is solid, as it was last season. Justice was a good sign, although he's regressed the last two weeks. McGlynn has been waffling between average and below average. Shipley has still been below average, IMO, just better than Satele (which hasn't been hard to do thus far).
Win percentage doesn't tell you much when you don't know who the opponents have been playing either. The Bears were, and are, good, and it showed by a demolition in Week 1. The Vikings were fools gold. They pulled off the upset win over SF, but outside of that have been bad (lose to a poor TB team, lose to a poor WAS team). Jags are terrible. Tenn. is terrible. GB was a great win, props for that. NYJ is a mess, that was embarrassing. MIA is better than expected, but not a playoff team.
@Kyle Rodriguez It's really difficult to compare head-to-head matchups in the NFL from one game to the next, I think anyway. A team can be one thing one week and something totally different the next. Sure there's something to be learned by stacking those things together over time, but I don't think it's enough to draw meaningful conclusions (even a 16 game sample size is hardly a lot, it's simply the best we can do).
Green Bay struggles to beat Jacksonville and loses to us but dominated the 7-1 Texans on the road. The Jets play the Patriots into overtime before losing in a blowout to Miami, who the Colts then beat after having just 3 weeks prior lost in a blowout to that same Jets team. The Bears sandwich a 14-7 eek out win vs. Detroit and a should-have-lost last second FG 1 point win vs. the lowly 2-6 Panthers with 41-3 and 51-20 demolitions of Jacksonville and Tennessee. And on and on it goes.
I won't argue that Redding, Freeney, or Powers have been playing above average, what I said was they are above average talents, the implication being that an adjustment period is necessary to bring out that potential. Maybe I'm drinking the kool-aid but I think this defense has serious potential and has shown it in stretches this season.
Point 5 has to be marked an incomplete at this point. How much can Pagano have influenced the last few weeks (as a coach, not as a source of inspiration)? He's been out for most of the season battling leukemia. This is a similar situation to the one IU was in a few years ago went Coach Hoeppner's cancer came back. They made a bowl game for the first time in 13 years under the worst coach in Indiana, but he didn't coach a down.
Point 3 - Polian was more than willing to pull draft day trades. Off the top of my head, Ijalana, Moala, McAfee, and Ugoh were all players acquired on draft day or picks acquired in a trade. I'm sure there are more. Grigson has shown a willingness to trade, but that doesn't make him an exceptional or even cutting edge GM. Most GMs make trades on the level that Grigson has. Grigson's piece de resistance in this area so far would probably be Winston Justice, which admittedly has been far more productive than I thought, because the Davis trade is an incomplete.
Frankly the best arguments from my perspective are the cap space and draft class argument. No one else has had to deal with that kind of cap hit ever (afaik), and his draft class has been productive. Given the paucity of talent on the team, it had to be. Frankly if you had replaced Painter/Orlovksy/Collins with Luck last year, we'd have seen similar results as we had what felt like dozens of easily winnable games with even an average QB. Grigson has definitely had some great initial steps in righting a listing ship, but I don't think he's even going to be in the running for the award. Elway signed the The Man (tm) who is most likely going to get his fifth MVP this year and the Broncos went from trick show to contender. Grigson might have done more to improve the team than Elway did, but moving from average to the upper echelon is more difficult than moving from the bottom to playoff contention (without even considering that he had the first draft pick with possibly the best NQL prospect ever).
@Payton Fair points. I give Pagano a lot of credit primarily because his players and assistant coaches do. Sure, what else are they going to say, but it has to count for something. It's his team vision, his schemes, his influence. Arians deserves a lot of credit too, don't get me wrong, but my point was that Pagano was a solid hire, but your point is well taken, the jury will really be out until next season. It was a tough call to hire an unknown, that at least you have to admit.
My point on trading was admittedly based on a contrast to Polian, you may be right that it's more perception than reality, but the prevailing feeling has been that Grigson is significantly more aggressive trading for players and bringing in free agents than Polian was, whether or not that's a normal level of aggressiveness I suppose I couldn't say, I'm no expert on normal GM behavior so the contrast to GMs nationwide may be misplaced. I think it's overstating the case to say adding Luck to last year's team would make them playoff contenders, you may be forgetting just how awful they were across the board. Say what you will about this defense it's significantly improved over last season.
I also think it's inaccurate to say Grigson isn't even in the conversation, in researching this piece he already is. Taking a team that was universally accepted nationally as the worst in the NFL, called an expansion roster by some, and predicted to go 0-16 by others, to a 5-3 record is much more impressive than taking a playoff team from last season to a 5-3 record. I question how much credit John Elway really gets for their success, signing Manning was a big deal but not on the level of rebuilding a roster like Grigson did, Manning chose Denver, it wasn't some amazing trade negotiation Elway pulled off. The overall team in Denver has arguably gotten worse, their defense costing them a couple games already.
@Colt_Following Maybe not playoff contenders, but there was a string of five games where we *should* have, not even could have, won had it not been for Painter/Collins. These were games were either down less than a FG or winning well into the 4th quarter. The 2011 Colts could easily have been sitting 5-3 at the same time last year, but the 2nd half of the schedule was tougher than the first.
@Squadrons bright @Colt_Following @Kyle Rodriguez That sentiment is fine, but Polian(s) thought they could draft linemen too. They largely failed and Bill is probably one of the greatest GMs (if not the) in NFL history. I love nastiness and willingness to finish, but you have to have the ability to do so for it to matter. I'm not a huge fan of offensive penalties, but that's why I was rooting for the Colts to sign Incognito. He was available for cheap and we didn't take a chance. He's been the best lineman in Miami ever since. McGlynn isn't a bad signing. It's not like he's really any different from our prior guards, but he's not something to chalk up in the win column.
Per the road blocking.. there was an Article about Grigson and McGlynn and how when he brought him in he liked his 'nastiness' and willingness to finish.. I didn't like how he said something to the effect of "he can play in this league." I got the overall sense that Mcglynn.. according to Grigson.. was a good player that embodied the virtues Grigson found nice in offensive lineman (his own past position) and felt something for the player.. even if he was not a great starter (this is the feeling I got upon reading it)
@Colt_Following @Kyle Rodriguez Who has Grigson brought in to upgrade the run blocking? Satele and Justice have been liabilities. McGlynn has been average at run blocking, but I don' t know how much of an upgrade he was over Pollak/Diem, since run blocking was allegedly why we kept Diem and stuck him at RG.
@Kyle Rodriguez @Payton What I said was they received a significantly higher run blocking grade, not necessarily the same as actual run production. As an example, Denver led the NFL in rushing last season but was far and away dead last in PFF's run block rating, nearly doubling the next closest team at -78.9 (the Colts), but were +9.5 in actual rush outcome, which was top 10. FO acknowledges that their offensive line metrics are tied to the running back to some degree, so RB production skews those numbers ("However, it is important to understand that these ratings only somewhat separate the offensive line from the running backs. A team with a very good running back will appear higher no matter how bad their line, and a team with a great line with appear lower if the running back is terrible.").
PFF rates the individual blockers in addition the running back, which is a different measurement. My point was exclusive to the blocking of the line (and concomitantly the success of Grigson to bring in better run blocking linemen), not whether or not the Colts ran the ball better than last season, that is irrelevant (though I think that's trending up too, averaging 140 ypg and +4 YPC during this 3 game winning streak).
@Kyle Rodriguez @Colt_Following Of all the things that didn't suck last year, I felt that the running game earned that title the most. It's was about league average. DB was not criminally underused last year, but he was certainly underused given how ineffective Addai was and how Delone varied between fumblitis and decent running.
@Colt_Following @Payton PFF can grade however it wants to, and I generally like their grades, but saying that this team is significantly better at running the football is false. The OL has a lower Adjusted Line Yards, and it shows in the fact that they're running at less than 4 yards per pop, even though only one of their opponents (MIA) is holding teams to less than 4 YPC on average.
I love stats, but depending on whose stats you choose to place emphasis on you can come to very different conclusions, we will unfortunately just be arguing past each other if we venture down that road, you presenting your stats and I presenting mine. My stats say that Vontae Davis is a good CB, you clearly disagree.
Maybe I'll be proven wrong, I'm okay with that, but I said this team would make the playoffs after week 3 (when we were 1-2), in writing, so it's not like I'm jumping on the bandwagon, I think this team has legitimate talent. Hypotheticals are a waste of time, saying which roster you'd prefer is pointless, this fact is we have a 5-3 record when almost everyone expected a 4-12 season at best (I'm sure yourself included, as you consider this team "terrible"). I'm content to give credit where I think it's due, if you would rather paint a darker picture of fortunate bounces and lucky breaks, fine with me, I simply don't accept that narrative (3 turnovers in 8 games is more than talent, that's a statistical anomaly).
@Colt_Following @Payton Actually, by many many advanced metrics, this team is only marginally better than last years. Week 9 FO stats aren't out yet, but as of week 8 last year the Colts were 32nd and this year 29th. Expected wins 2011 was 1.6, 2012 2.0. That includes the huge blow out by the Saints disrupting the numbers.
I fully expect the 2012 Colts to greatly improve on last years final tallies, but it almost entirely comes down to Luck and Reggie Wayne playing out of his mind.
If you look at every base formation, I don't think any part of this years team is better than last years other than QB. For instance, I'd much rather have (for 1 year) Wayne, Garcon, Collie & Clark than Wayne, Hilton, Allen & Fleener. Ditto for OL, RB, CB, etc. I think this years LB corp has a chance to be improved, but not by some huge margin.
I suppose your hypothetical addition of Luck scenario can never be tested, making it largely an irrelevant discussion, but you make a lot of valid points across some other positions. That being said, I definitely feel like you're venturing too far toward the absolute most grim version of the players currently on the roster. I'd have to undertake a full team comparison to really address all the points you just made (maybe I will in fact), but the short version is that I think you're framing the argument unfairly. Grigson was faced with a financial handicap, making resigning Garcon nearly impossible, and he's done an admirable job replacing his production with rookies. Sometimes it's as much about the players you keep and the ones you let go as it is about the ones you bring in.
I'd be the first to admit that QB is far and away the most important position in all of sports, a good one covers up all kinds of warts. But I also believe that football is the ultimate team sport and that the difference between an 0-8 record and 5-3 is much larger than one player. Luck may be uniquely suited to make this offensive line look better than it is with his ability to avoid a pass rush, but I think it's also true that this line has in fact improved over last season, even with the massive downgrade from Jeff Saturday to Samson Satele. They've gotten slightly worse in pass protection, but they have gotten significantly better in run block. PFF rated the Colts' run block last season at -48.6, second to worst in the league, this season through 8 games they're posting a +2.1, which is a massive improvement and was something Grigson wanted to achieve with this bigger line.
@Colt_Following The defensive front seven hasn't improved much in my mind other than signing Redding. Freeman was a great find, but I don't think that he's been any better than Angerer or Conner. Freeney and Mathis largely have the same role, just in a different position. Mookie's been just as bad or worse in 2012 as he was in 2011. McKinney went on IR before the season even started, so we can't even tell if he's worth signing yet. Moala and Nevis have both been hit or miss when they've been on the field. Redding has been the only position/role that's seen a clear upgrade in my mind in the front seven.
Bethea and Powers are holdovers from last year, and they've played worse this year than last. Zbi has had one good game the entire season. Davis has been hurt and very inconsistent when he's been on the field. Vaughn, Gordy, et al are definitely not any better than the guys we trotted out last year. Our defensive rankings are essentially a wash, only this year we're on record pace for fewest takeaways in NFL history.
Offensively the line is still clearly a mess. Satele is a downgrade. Our guards have been pedestrian at best (or injured) and downright awful in quite a few games. Justice has been a success, but he's competing against the Link/Diem/Ojinnaka combo from last year so it's more or less addition by subtraction. Sack rate is slightly lower, but QB hits, hurries/pressures, and sacks are all up from last year. Luck is alive mostly through his ability to move in the pocket and escape pressure with his legs than upgraded offensive line play.
The running backs are pretty much a wash. For every game they've impressed this year, I can point to a similar one last year. Only real difference I can see is our RBs have largely been healthier this year than last.
I would argue that the WRs are actually less talented this year than last year. Wayne suffered from bad QB play last year, but Garcon thrived. Let that sink in. Garcon wrangled a 42 million dollar contract with Painter and the Human safety throwing him the ball. Even the combination of Brazill, Avery, and Hilton doesn't add up to that. Hilton and Brazill are rookies, but there's little evidence to show that they'll be up to his level. They could be the next Harrison/Garcon or they could be the next Green/Pathon.
The one area I see a clear upgrade in on offense is the TEs. Allen is in beast mode this year and Fleener is showing potential when the coaches can figure out how to use him. Those guys represent mroe balance from the TEs than Clark and Tamme. Clark is on the downside and missed games due to injury. Tamme is doing pretty well in Denver right now and set to be near his 2010 year receiving wise.
For the tl;dr section, the only real upgrade I see outside of Luck -- I cannot understate how important his addition to the team is -- has been Redding. The gain in TE was offset by receiver, and a lot of the potential upgrades haven't panned out or get an "I" because of injury. If you put the exact 2011 roster and coaching staff into this season with Luck at the helm, I really wouldn't be surprised if we were in the same boat we are now.
Sure that's fair, and of course on the flip side, if a couple things go the other way it's not impossible these 2012 Colts aren't 0-8 as they've won every game by 6 points or less (and the 6 point win was a comeback in overtime). But I still think the argument stands that this roster is significantly more talented than last season and Grigson has accomplished it with one hand tied behind his back financially.
I freely admit that I'm way closer to the Colts situation than any other team, so my knowledge of what other GMs have done across the league is severely lacking. I could be way off base in my assessment but to my layman's eyes Grigson has done a phenomenal job rebuilding this roster with rookies and cast offs (at least so far, still a lot of footbal to be played).
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