We've now made it through two full seasons without Peyton Manning at the helm. As much as I loved him as my quarterback and the era in which he brought so much success to my favorite team, my life as a Colts fan has moved on. We have a new GM, a new coaching staff, and, with a few exceptions, an entirely different cast of players. We have been fortunate enough to return to the prominence of being a perennial playoff team while others continue their decades long rebuilding process (a nice fact to give to a Browns fan if he starts bragging about how we got fleeced in the Richardson trade). Despite this continued success, it is always good to sit back and take stock of where you have been, where you are, and where you are going. There are many positives as well as many negatives that we have seen over the last two years and will continue to see in the future as even strong franchises are never perfect. I wanted to take the chance to share some thoughts from my perspective over what has happened with my beloved Colts over the last two years. There will be strong praise, and there will be harsh criticism. I'm sure some of you will strongly disagree, and I hope at least some of you will strongly agree. I will share my thoughts primarily regarding GM Ryan Grigson's free agent and draft decisions, the successes and failures of Chuck Pagano's coaching staff, and a short evaluation of each player position as a whole with a few comments sprinkled in about a few of the more prominent players (for better or worse) at each position. For this installment, I will be restricting the post just to Grigson and personnel moves.
When Jim Irsay hired Grigson to be the new GM, I didn't really know what to think. I had never heard of him before (like most front office personnel from other teams), but he was highly regarded for his talent evaluations. In year one, he did not disappoint. He wisely worked to retain both Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne. I can't even begin to express how absolutely vital these two players have been to the renewed success of this team. Reggie was always there for Luck when he needed him during his rookie season. He continued his strong play until his injury this season, and his overall presence on this team has helped immensely. Mathis has come on strong this season after adjusting to the new style of defense. Quite frankly, he was the defense this past season. He didn't stop with just these two terrific moves. Finding Jerrell Freeman in Canada has been the type of move that keeps a GM employed long-term. First round picks are no guarantee, but logic dictates that finding this kind of talent in UDFAs or similar less-lauded situations is far more difficult. Things weren't all great in free agency. Satele and McGlynn have not been strong pickups (to say the least), but he didn't exactly have much to work with at this time (this continued issues will be discussed later, however). His decision to clear cap by releasing several old favorites was also a strong choice even if it hasn't turned out the greatest (another issue which will be coming up). Overall, he had a strong first showing in FA.
The draft is likely where he won the Executive of the Year award. Unless you expect HOF talent with every pick, could Grigson have had a better first draft? Picking Luck first was a no-brainer (does anyone besides Redskins fans and Skip Bayless debate this anymore?), but it was what he did with the rest of the draft that was pure magic. Hilton and Allen were absolute steals. Ballard had a good rookie season despite his draft status, and Fleener had a strong second season after a disappointing first. Admittedly, there were better players drafted around the time of Fleener and Ballard (Alshon Jeffrey comes to mind), but you can't deny the worthiness of the picks that were made. Late round picks are late round picks. You hope to find a gem (and we may have found a few if Brazill and Chapman continues to progress), but you can't get too upset if they don't pan out.
Grigson likes to trade players. While most were pretty low-profile (such as the Winston Justice trade), Vontae Davis was a pretty big splash. While I still think a second-rounder was too much, it was a good trade despite his continued inconsistency.
On his first season, I can give Grigson nothing else but an A.
All that being said about his first season, his second season has been one to forget. Simply put, he made bad decisions in free agency, bad decisions in the draft, and bad decisions with trades. By and large, It was just plain bad.
• Gosder Cherilus - I'm starting out with one of the few decisions that wasn't just plain bad. Cherilus has been a good right tackle for us. He and Castonzo have paired to make a pretty strong bookend tackles for the line. However, he was paid a lot of money. Money that could've been offered to Louis Vasquez. In fairness, we may have not had any chance at Vasquez. Maybe he wanted to play with Manning (who wouldn't?). However, it still burns me that we missed out.
• Donald Thomas - Thomas gets an incomplete since he got hurt so early. He seemed to play well beforehand, so I have high hopes for him next season.
• Ahmad Bradshaw - Similar to Thomas. What could've been...
• Erik Walden - Admit it. He played much better than any Colts fan expected him to. Still, that's not saying much. Also, $4 million a year for four years on the first day? He likely would have lasted a while, and we could've gotten him for much cheaper if Grigson wanted him so bad. I don't remember if it was Josh Wilson or Kyle from ColtsAuthority, but someone was seriously jonesing for Shaun Phillips in this spot. Considering Phillips played far better for far less and was available for quite some time, it seems as if he would've been a much better choice.
• Greg Toler - Where do I begin? He's an injury-prone CB who didn't have much starting experience who was given a comparable contract (on the first day, no less) to that of other CBs with more talent and starting experience. I understand why Grigson passed on Brent Grimes coming back from an Achilles injury, but there were still better choices.
• LaRon Landry - "Where do I begin?", take two. He was supposed to be Bob Sanders. He wasn't even Tom Zbikowski. He came with the understanding that he couldn't cover, but that he could tackle and play the run. He couldn't do that either. Why do some football players not realize that you can't just run into the other guy? He's big and strong, too! Anyway, I don't have a player I preferred this time, but, whoever it might've been, could it really have been worse?
• Ricky Jean-Francois - Too much money for a one-trick pony career backup. It seems with this pick that Grigson just refused to have anyone who interviewed with him not sign. No real pass rush to speak of, and he didn't really help much with the run.
• Darius Heyward-Bey - "Where do I begin?", take three. When he signed, I thought, "At least he can't be any worse than Donnie Avery." I never realized how wrong I could be. I could go on, but do I really need to?
• Bjorn Werner - I have to be honest. I didn't like the pick. His play didn't help my opinion of the pick. Yes, he played better toward the end of the season (and he was a project from the beginning), but there was some strong talent at that spot at CB, WR, and O-line. I desperately wanted Xavier Rhodes or DeAndre Hopkins/Kennan Allen. Rhodes had an up and down year on a poor defense, but Hopkins and Allen absolutely excelled (and unlike Allen, Hopkins had a terrible QB situation and still excelled). Travis Frederick has played tremendously for the Cowboys. I wouldn't have picked him over the other guys I listed, but he played very well at an area of need.
• Hugh Thornton - My big problem is that he probably could've been had later, and there were other o-lineman that have played better this season taken after him. He was hurt all camp/preseason, so that didn't help. A full off-season and a change to right guard (his position in college if I've heard correctly) may help. I still have hope that he can develop.
• Khaled Holmes - Fourth round o-lineman playing behind bad o-lineman should not be healthy scratches. While he played well in his limited paying time, it was such a small sample that it really is hard to form an opinion. Like Thornton, I hope he develops with more time.
• Montori Hughes - Grigson took a risk on an up and down player. Unsurprisingly, he was up and down. If the coaching staff can help his work ethic, he could potentially be a keeper. With Redding aging and Chapman still somewhat of an unknown, we really need him to pan out.
• Boyett/Williams/Cunningham - Late round picks that didn't pan out. Again, you hope to find a gem, but you can't get upset when you don't.
There were two major moves here--Sheppard for Hughes and Richardson for a first round pick.
• Hughes had a better year in Buffalo than Sheppard had in Indy. Sheppard struggled at times, but played better as the season progressed. While it's easy to say that we could've used Hughes' ten sacks this year, he needed a change of scenery. He didn't like it here, and there's no saying that he would've produced like he did in Buffalo had he stayed.
• Richardson - "Where do I begin?" take four. I HATED, HATED, HATED, HATED, HATED, HATED, HATED (I think I've made my point) this trade when it was made. Even if the comparisons to Edge had come true, I still don't think I would've liked this trade. You can find strong RBs in the later rounds, and we could really use that pick in a draft that is deep in the areas we need to improve. We all hope that he'll follow the Marshawn Lynch track, but who knows? I could go on, but I'm getting upset just thinking about it.
• Now for the worst trade of the year...How could Grigson trade A.Q. Shipley!?!?!?!?!?! He would've single-handedly taken us to the Super Bowl!!!!!!!! I wouldn't have traded him for Jerry Rice AND Walter Payton!!!!!!!!! How could he do such a thing!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! (Too much? Probably, but some of the reactions on here weren't too far off from this at the beginning of the season. Thank goodness we survived such a loss.)
If I feel the need to spend so much time on what Grigson did poorly, he deserves at least a few sentence of what he did well. As I mentioned before, Grigson has become somewhat of a legend already for finding hidden talent. His signing of Griff Whalen proved to be a strong signing (though he was technically signed his first year as GM) after a shaky start to the season and a few stops on the practice squad, and I'm very excited about the potential of Da'Rick Rogers. If he can stay out of trouble and learn better route running (he has the best in the business in Reggie Wayne to help him when he gets healthy), he could be a long term solution at WR. Josh McNary could also be a hidden gem. He played well in limited time. He may never be a starter, but he's a good rotation guy. I'm excited for Daniel Adongo, but there really is no realistic expectation. It will be fun to see if he can develop into a true NFL player. In the end, I can give Grigson no higher than a C for this past season.
As far as the future goes, I think we should focus on getting some of our own guys signed and adding a few parts. With Luck's contract pending in the next few years (and a few other guys that will also be coming due), I don't honestly know what to expect for us to be able to do this year. Hopefully, Grigson can improve upon what he did last season. Here are my thoughts about what he should do.
• Antoine Bethea - If the price is right, but I don't expect it to be. He'll probably want to cash in on what will likely be his last contract, and I don't blame him for that. He'd do well with a switch to SS, but we're stuck with Landry there.
• Donald Brown - He sounds like he doesn't expect to be back (or doesn't want to come back). Again, at the right price, but he'll probably get a better offer.
• Pat Angerer - He has regressed in this defense, and he is injury-prone. Good luck to him elsewhere.
• Ahmad Bradshaw - It was a worthwhile experiment. It didn't work out well because of injury. Move on.
• Sergio Brown - I strongly believe his play on Special Teams prevented touchdown drives by the opponent. Getting to the ball carrier and pinning the opponent deep on punts were his strengths. Provided he will accept pay appropriate for a ST, he needs to stay.
• Kavell Conner - He seemed to outplay Angerer and Sheppard, but he's just never been a popular player under the Pagano regime. I'd keep him for depth, but I don't see him coming back.
• DHB - No. Just no.
• Josh Gordy - Good depth signing. He played well at times with increased play when Toler went down.
• Pat McAfee - We all love Pat, but he's still a punter (albeit a good one). If he takes a reasonable contract, I absolutely want him back, but punters aren't worth $3-4 million.
• Adam Vinatieri - While I can't know for sure, I have a feeling that he isn't going to want to pickup and move his family at 41 years old. Offer him a fair contract, and let's keep him around.
Here are my top needs in no particular order: WR, CB, S, OL, ILB, DL. Admittedly, that's most of the positions, and we can't improve on them all. It really all depends on what is available to us when we are picking. I think we could go best available and be fine at most positions. The only two players I have my eye on in particular are Jordan Matthews and Travis Swanson. It's still early, obviously, but most are projecting Matthews to be a mid-late second round pick after the flood of Junior WRs from what I've seen so far. That is fine with me. He may not have any flash, but he's a tall receiver who can just plain catch the ball. Vandy isn't exactly a powerhouse, but they play in the SEC. He's gone up against the best and excelled. If he's there when we pick in the second, I really want him. With Reggie being no guarantee, and with age starting to claim his career, Matthews would be a great pickup to team with T.Y. while Griff, Brazill, and Rogers continue to develop.
I've said a lot. As promised, there was strong praise and harsh criticism. As much as I hated his moves this past year, there were some bright spots. Also, year #1 showed that he has the ability to make strong decisions in FA and the draft. I look forward to what he'll do this season, and I'm confidant that he has more of the year #1 GM in him than year #2.
Overall Grade after two years: B.