Welcome to the first official Devil's Take in quite some time. With Manning out for the season, I personally knew that this would be a waste of time trying to debate/comment on most of these games. Thus, I took it upon myself to just try and make the best of it. I'm sure many of us did, some succeeding while others failed miserably.
As BBS reported during last year, Manning's neck injury was in fact real. How the league never moved against the Colts for failure to list the injury, is amazing to me. The best guess I can come up with is simply that since it was "pain" and not necessarily a proven injury, it was omitted. As the season is now behind us, you have all seen the wreckage that this neck injury cost. Bill and Chris Polian - Fired. Defensive Coordinator Coyer - Fired. Special Teams Coordinator Rychleski - Fired.
Ultimately, the 2011 season has brought a lot of questions, some new faces, and now the Colts have the #1 pick in the draft. How do the Colts move forward? I've got some thoughts on that...
Peyton Manning - The biggest absolute question of the now and future of the Colts is the health of Peyton Manning. This is the ONLY thing that matters to be honest. With him under center, he's the best QB on the field. Without him, this team has a TON of decisions to make. Brad Well's most recent article seems to believe Manning won't be here as a Colt next season. Well, I got news for you, that simply won't happen. If Manning can play next season, he will be #18 in the Colts blue and white. If he can't, he will retire a Colt. History has already played this game once before for the Colts, with a guy by the name of Johnny Unitas. Trust me when I say this, Irsay wants no part of that. Unitas was considered one of the greatest, and to have Manning eclipse Unitas only to pull the same thing on Manning, would be a blow this franchise cannot afford.
Many of us feel that way as well. I for one cannot imagine seeing Manning in another uniform. It's much like the Favre disaster, I just can't see it. I also don't believe Manning would want that for his legacy either. So much is being made of his injury that not much is being made of his potential recovery. Kelvin Hayden had a very similar procedure done, and he's back and playing well once more. In fact, the only difference I believe is Hayden's I believe was 1-2 vertebrae lower.
Jim Caldwell - I'll be honest, the Colts have blown it. This guy should have been canned the moment the season ended. Why did the Colts blow it? Two words: Jeff Fisher. The guy was the best available coach in recent memory, and would have been a better pickup for this franchise than even Tony Dungy was. Now, Caldwell is almost all but guaranteed to return as the head coach for the 2012 season. To be honest, I still have a strong feeling the Colts may cut him loose anyways, as the new GM Grigson may find someone better suited for his tastes.
Possible Coaching Candidates - So let's assume the Colts made the decision to wait on the GM hiring to prevent any potential problems with a new coach hire. Let's also assume that Fisher wasn't interested in the Colts or that the Colts weren't interested in him (both of which are BS and we know it). Caldwell retaining his job would be the simplest decision of course, as it would allow for some continuity into the 2012 season. However, that's essentially setting him up to fail as a lame duck coach. Brian Schottenheimer left the Jets, and he's an offensive minded OC, but he's never been a head coach. He would be ideal to work with Manning as well as possibly whomever the Colts draft at QB. Hue Jackson and Steve Spagnuolo are both also ideal candidates as well. Jackson is an offensive guy with proven work with the Raider/Bengals, and let's be honest, if you can get it done there you can get it done anywhere. Spagnuolo was the mastermind behind the Giants defense that upset the Patriots in the SB. With Manning as your QB, he would be able to focus primarily on retooling this Colts defense.
However, my pick is truly a dark horse decision and one I think would benefit us greatly: Bill Cowher. The true trick here is seeing if he even wants to return to coaching, as I think he would suit the Colts the most. He's more of a defensive minded guy, and his teams always ran a variant of the Cover 2 style defense, which the Colts are built for. You cannot tell me seeing a little of the Black and Gold defense played here wouldn't be a refreshing change to the speed variant that isn't working anymore without a lead. The additional bonus to this hiring would be the guys in the league have respect for Cowher. While it may not lead to anyone signing with us, it might put the thought in several free agent to be's minds.
As you can see, that's a lot to think about, and we haven't even touched the roster for the 2012 Colts. You have guys like Wayne, Mathis, Garcon to name just a few that are unrestricted free agents. You have a defense that is young and unproven to some extent. You have some guys on both sides of the ball coming back off injured reserve. You also have a lot of holes to fill. Now many will say well if we trade Manning we could fill some of those holes. Actually, not only would we lose on that deal, but we'd be trading offensive firepower for defensive power. The fact of the matter is that if Manning isn't our QB next year, the Colts have A LOT of issues to deal with.
With Manning - If Manning is under center, the chances of re-signing guys like Wayne, Garcon, Mathis all becomes much easier. They'll know the Colts are still in a position to win. It also makes the decisions for other free agents who may be willing to take less to play for a proven QB instead of taking large deals to stay with crappy teams.
Without Manning - The cupboard is bare. Wayne and Mathis are for sure gone. Garcon might re-sign here, but it's hard to say. The only surefire offensive weapons the Colts have under contract is Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, both with injury issues. The defense is not capable of playing a full 16 game season from behind all the time. We won't sneak up on anyone. And it doesn't matter if the Colts have Luck under center or Painter.
So what to do then?
Trade the Number 1 Pick - Yes, you read it right. Trade it. Not only do you not draft Luck, but you trade the pick. Why? Because the Colts have too many holes to fill right now without the QB issue. They need WR's, they need CB's, and they most certainly need at least one more DT and Safety. Without Manning, this team will be a 1-15 or possibly a 4-12 team anyways. The teams that are all picking behind the Colts are not looking to draft a QB, at least not necessarily. The Vikings and Rams have both picked QB's in recent drafts, and while Luck would be better possibly than Ponder, the Vikings would then have to move Ponder. The Browns and Redskins are teams looking for a QB, but will they trade what the Colts want for the #1 pick? Ultimately, I think there are teams out there that could provide the Colts with a reasonable trade.
The Colts have a chance to pull the same kind of steal that the Chargers did with Michael Vick. In return on that trade to the Falcons, they got Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson. The Colts however, would most likely get at least 1 first round pick, quite possibly two. The 2012 draft features a couple of quality QB's besides Luck, such as Case Keenum and Kellen Moore. The best QB of the group stayed in school in Matt Barkley. And he would be MY pick if he had come out.
The Colts have a chance here to target a big name defensive player at the DT position if they did that. They could also possibly look at targeting a big name WR, such as Michael Floyd or Justin Blackmon. In either event, the Colts WR position is all free agents or rookies as it stands. The Colts NEED to choose and I'm sorry but the QB position is not as critical right this minute.
Let's also not forget this: Dan Orlovsky played fairly well given the amount of turmoil and crap that was going on. Given a full offseason/spring training camp, I truly do believe that this guy could do as well or even possibly better than any rookie we draft. This is why it's critical for the Colts to target the holes this team has instead of the QB position. He's not the QB of the future for this team, but I honestly do not think the guy could play any worse than a rookie...and certainly he can play 10 times better than Painter.
So where does that leave us? Peyton Manning. He's essentially the domino that determines whether we fall over or the one that keeps us upright.
There are some decisions the Colts need to make about this roster moving forward, and I've touched on a few of the biggest ones. There are however a few more I'd like to discuss.
- Reggie Wayne/Pierre Garcon - Despite the QB issues the Colts faced in 2011 and could face in 2012, at least one of these guys needs to be resigned. I think the Colts would be very smart to resign Garcon as he's the least expensive of the two. He's also highly loyal to us as a team and the guy plays hard all the time. He may drop a ball or two, but I'd rather have him than a guy like Randy Moss.
- Dallas Clark - The emergence of Jacob Tamme and the improvement in Brody Eldridge make Clark expendable. Make a trade similar to what the Chiefs made with the Falcons, and you could see the Colts get a 2nd or 3rd round pick out of it. Possibly a player as well. The fact is that the Colts almost always draft or sign relatively good talent at the TE position.
- Offensive Line - Many of us know there are issues on the offensive line, but the truth is that this offensive line played better than what many of us realize. Highest rushing output in about 5 seasons. Highest yards per carry average since 2004. Despite the inexperience of the line and the shuffling of guys out of position, this line played beyond expectations. Given more time, more practice, and perhaps a slight retooling, we could be in for a much better year running the ball next year.
- Joseph Addai - It's time for the Colts to let him go. He's been unable to stay healthy now for I believe 3 years in a row. The Colts have drafted two RB's in the last 3 years and both have played well in 2011. Donald Brown finally showed ColtsNation that he can be the guy...and Carter showed us he can pound the rock. While Addai is a versatile pass blocking RB, the fact remains the roster spot could be used by a FB/RB. I wont be surprised if the Colts don't cut him, but he is not a starter anymore.
- Gary Brackett - This one is a very slippery slope, because I think Brackett can still play at a starter level. The problem is that both Kavell Conner and Pat Angerer are firmly entrenched as your starters next season. The Colts also have Ernie Sims who they should resign to play as well. I believe the Colts will try and rework his deal but I hope he is still around. Even if he can't start anymore, I truly believe he offers the Colts quality depth and reps in the current defensive scheme.
- Pat Angerer - You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. The fact this guy got no love for the Pro Bowl is a joke. He led the league for most of the year in tackles and despite missing some time, he finished fourth in the NFL.
- Joe Lefeged - The kid looks like a gamer. He had some rough patches, but given what he was thrown into, I like what I see. He's big, has some wheels, and he's capable of mixing it up. Depending on how the Colts approach this draft, he could be a short term, possibly long term answer at safety. Given Bullitt's injuries the last 2 years and his penchant as more of a backup/special teams player, he may be better suited to a rotation type setup.
- Antoine Bethea - Routinely the one guy for the Colts who always plays, always does his job, and you almost never hear about him. Constantly overlooked for flashier guys when it comes to awards and Pro Bowl nods. Just glad to have you on our team man.
Some noteworthy stats:
- The Colts posted only their 3rd losing season since the drafting of Peyton Manning. Of that, two of those years were derailed by significant injuries to offensive weapons (Edge/Manning).
- The Colts rushing attack finished 26th in the league in total rushing. That's their highest finish since the 2007 season. It's also their highest output in total yards rushing (1594) since that same season.
- The Colts would average 4.2 yards per carry on the season, the highest total since 2004.
- The Colts O-Line would only give up 35 sacks on the year finishing 16th on the list. They finished higher than the Lions, Packers, Steelers, Broncos, and 49ers, all playoff teams. 3 of the other remaining 7 playoff teams would finish just above the Colts (Ravens/Texans - 33, Patriots - 32).
- The era of Curtis Painter is over. He's proven not only to the league but the Colts that he cannot be their QB.
- Donald Brown would post the highest RB totals for the Colts this year. Yes, Donald freaking Brown. He finished the season with almost 650 yards, 5 TD's, and a 4.8 ypc.
- Despite the putrid season the Colts endured, the Colts defense would finish #1 in total combined tackles with 1,253.