Hello Colts Nation!
Once again, I'm here to make a fanpost because I want to illustrate a point that I've somewhat been thinking about during this past off season. Now, the off season can be an exciting time for some fans because it's like going window shopping when you salivate for certain prospects to play for your team. And that's okay because I, too, love to window shop and speculate at which players that I would love to sign for the Colts.
And then, there's reality. With reality, in comes circumstances that often makes our dreams a lot more challenging than anticipated. When we window shop, we glance into our empty wallets and a moth of reality flutters free. Well, what is this challenge that we have encountered? First of all, the NFL consists of 32 teams that are vying for the same trophy. And so, the Colts aren't the only ones looking at a selective bunch of players to make their team better in order to obtain this trophy. Second of all, the NFL cap salary prevents the Colts to get everybody that they want all at the same time. So, any team cannot monopolize themselves into a loaded SB caliber team at will, pretty much like the Cowboys did years ago. Or any team pre-salary cap era for that matter.
So, what can we do at this point? Give up? Well, no. There are ways to go around these red tapes or challenges and still get what we want at the end. We just have to be flexible with our expectations to come into a consensus with reality. We have to become smarter than the challenge and discover a suitable solution. So, we are at the off season, we want these super-duper talented players to load up our teams with. Well, we can't necessarily do so because there's 32 other teams vying for the same set of players in order to obtain that trophy at the end. And the NFL is currently under a cap salary era, which means our teams are under a budget. So, what shall we do? Build our delicious roster under a budget!
As the Colts finished our 2013 season, we look back and realize that our team is in good shape. We have talents, we have some money to spend during the off season, and we finished with a good record at 11-5 with a playoff win. Nice. However, we traded away our first round pick for one and only Trent Richardson. Now, Grigson and company are faced with only 5 draft picks without a first round pick, roughly $33 million to spend in free agency, and Trent Richardson on-board from Cleveland.
The Colts does have holes throughout the roster, just like any other teams in the NFL. Offensively, the Colts have holes at the interior offensive line position, with an aging Reggie Wayne returning from injury. Defensively, the Colts' defensive line didn't play up to standard, neither did their secondary with LaRon Landry and Antoine Bethea at helm. And Greg Toler suffered through nagging injuries all year, or at least half the season. So, at this point, what do we do? Get an elite WR through FA? Draft another WR? Draft another center? What now?
This is where we reach the 'meat' of this article that I am about to illustrate. See, right here, I propose an idea that may not be realized by a lot of fans because it's so simple, yet so very radical. This particular 'secret' skillset extends beyond football, as well. See, when I analyze things in general, I like to depend on analyzing the hierarchy of things. Yes, that's it. That's the secret. Basically, I look at the big picture overall and then break them down to little pieces.
For example: to cook a delicious-tasting food, the secret is fat, sugar, and salt. That's it. Now, let's make some pie because well, I love pie! So, you slam down some butter, some salt to enhance the flavors, and riddle it with brown sugar (since it also has molasses, which makes it a double sugar!). Okay, so which fruits would you want to base your pie off of? Apples? Pears? Peaches? Blackberries? How about them apples - it's my favorite! Okay, we move onto flavor base: sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy. Obviously, we are rolling with sweet, because I love sweet. Let's look at what kind of apples that can be sweet, like Fuji. However, I like the spicy flavor, as well. Okay, so let's add cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and a hint of vanilla!
Before we bake that pie, how do you like your texture? Rough? Smooth? Well, since I like it rough, let's add a coarse blend of sugar and pecan crumble on top! Yum!
See where I'm going with this? See how simple this method of breaking bigger things down to smaller pieces? Now, you can essentially apply hierarchy to any skillset and you will have an idea of how things are constructed overall. You look at things in a big picture and then break them down to little pieces, but not the other way around! This is where and why a lot of us gets lost when we approach things in a wrong manner.
Well, let's apply this theory of hierarchy onto football since this is a football-related site.
So, obviously we are in the cap salary era where we cannot afford everything. And so, we have to wise up and make sure to shop with discipline since we're under a budget!
Now, to apply this skill of hierarchy onto football, we must look at the team as a whole picture: offense, defense, and special teams as units that will follow our overall game plan. That's it. I'll illustrate this point extensively on offense since I'm more knowledgeable about this unit in general than the defense and special team units.
Now, making an unit or team is like building a house. You need a solid foundation followed by glue and nails to hold these foundations together. Offense, Defense, and Special Teams will be your solid foundations like cement, but the strength of this foundation is determined by level of talents in your core positions for each units. Followed by glue and nails that holds the foundation together, such as average and depth players throughout the units. The overall scheme or direction of the team is basically like a design of a house. Do you like a ranch-style home? Victorian? French? Cottage? Well, the "run the ball, stop the run" mantra that Chuck Pagano often preaches is an example of this. So, you need to come up with ingredients for your team overall that will not only survive the cap salary era, but to efficiently execute specific game plans against opposing teams and win. And then you further break down your overall team to their prospective units (offense, defense, and special teams) to execute your game plan based on level of talents and capabilities that are employed per unit.
When you pick up elite talents, these players should be your core foundations of your team for a long time. When you pick up free agents and draft players beyond the first 10 draft picks of the first round, then these players should serve as the glue and nail that holds together the foundation (elite players) of your team. That's why it's also good plan to build your team through the draft, unless if other circumstances pop up. You're essentially holding together your elite foundations with nail and glue that will weather opposing storms. For example: Atlanta Falcons had solid foundations, but there was a lack of nail and glue, and whole thing just fell apart! This is also why you just can't blindly pluck and plug elite players at will during FA. You need a recipe, plan, or strategy to execute. Now, such talents of elite potential can usually be discovered through top 10 spots in the draft and/or free agency. However, you can also get lucky to find such gems throughout the draft. Ryan Grigson trading away a 1st round pick for a 3rd pick from Cleveland in Trent Richardson, who now plays alongside with a 1st round draft pick and QB in Andrew Luck, is no accident. In this case, Ryan Grigson exchanged a 26th pick talent of 2013 for a 3rd pick talent of 2012, to build the foundation of this team. And if Trent Richardson pans out in 2014, then Ryan Grigson is a smart, smart man who sees the overall picture.
So, is everything clear so far? Yes? Then, let's proceed with the article and try to make us a house!
In 2013, the Colts' offense was good with some weaknesses here and there, the defense was pretty bad, and the special teams was serviceable. Overall, we lacked depth throughout the roster to make a serious run for the Super Bowl. To break this down a bit further, we must look at the core of our perspective units.
In offense, which positions are most important that drives this unit? I'd say QB, RB (or WR), LT, C, and TE. The reason why I suggested these position because QB is what drives the team. The LT position is what defends the QB's blind side, which is important. The RB position is what opens the offense and makes it two-dimensional, leaving more offensive opportunities for RB and QB alike. The C position is what opens the path for the RB to make plays and defends the pass, as well. The TE position is used to defend the pass, catch the pass, and open the path for RB to make plays. The WR position makes plays for the QB for huge chunks of yardages.
Now, Chuck Pagano repeatedly illustrates the mantra of "run the ball, stop the run". There's a reason for this and that is because we want to manage the clock, add another dimension to our offense for running with the ball and passing the ball, and to force the opposing QBs to throw balls in the air. That is Pagano's overall plan right here. And since that's the overall scheme we're going with, so be it (and I think it's a very smart scheme too).
For Chuck Pagano's scheme to work, we'll need to fulfill the RB, TE, C, and LT positions with elite talents. We have Andrew Luck who is able to make plays, so we have this as a bonus. Elite WRs are irrelevant in this scheme because it doesn't fit in with Pagano's mantra of mainly running the ball. So, we can roll with having adequate WRs of at least average talent who can mainly get open and catch the ball, that's it.
Overall, like with any recipe, we start at the top of our offensive core at QB to determine our direction for the team. How good is the QB? If he's good to elite, then we are able to head in a direction. However, if he's of average talent at best, then we have to head into another direction. For example, the Houston Texans have elite RB and WR because their QB is of above average talent at best. So, he needs his offense to make plays for him, as well.
When the Colts employed Peyton Manning as QB, Bill Polian had a recipe for this team - to fill the WR, TE, C, and LT core with good to elite talent. At times, we had Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk to fulfill the RB position of elite talent but it wasn't all the time. Both, the elite QB and WRs making plays while the elite C provides protection? This was a recipe for a 'Star Wars' offense, the same recipe that the Broncos is using at the moment. This is the same set of ingredients that the Packers used before Eddie Lacy signed with the team. The level of QB talent is also essential to make this offense work.
Ingredients: QB, WR, TE, LT, and C.
The Chuck Pagano-led Andrew Luck offense will most likely be a tad different. The QB and RB will make plays together to force the opposing defenses to open up. They have to defend against both positions! All of this, while the C and TE will block and create opportunities for both guys. Where's the elite WR? They're not really necessary in this scheme and we don't need to pick one up during FA and draft. All these WRs need to do is simply open up, catch the ball, and make plays however they can. That's it. Also, the level of QB talent is not as essential as the other plan, for this sort of offense to work. However, Andrew Luck will serve as a sort of steroids to make this offense stronger and deadlier!
Ingredients: QB, RB, TE, LT, and C.
And to illustrate my point even further, I believe that the Colts should let Hilton, Fleener, and Ballard walk in 2016. Yes, this is a controversial point because we've grown emotionally attached to these players. However, these guys aren't going to re-sign with the Colts unless if it's the right price. If I was a betting man, Grigson wouldn't re-sign any of these guys unless if they were willing to give us a "hometown" discount, which is highly unlikely. No way that any NFL player will undervalue themselves for any contract. They have short careers on average, a family to feed, and they need to look out for their futures. However, I highly trust that Grigson will re-sign Luck, Allen, Castonzo, and Richardson onto long-term contracts for big money. And then draft the rest as glue and nails to seal our foundations together.
At this point, we've gotten the overall picture of our most vital positions in offense and the scheme plan. Let's break this down a bit more.
Currently, the QB position is held by Andrew Luck; the RB position is held by Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard, the WR position are held by Reggie Wayne, Da'Rick Rogers, and T.Y. Hilton; the LT position is held by Anthony Castonzo; the TE position are held by Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener; the C position is held by Samson Satele. Now, our QB, TE, LT, WR, and even our RB positions are looking solid (don't worry, I have faith in Trent Richardson). However, our C position is very weak at the moment.
Obviously, we have to get a new C because Khaled Holmes is uncertain and Samson Satele have failed to fulfill playing in this position up to standard. So, the wise move is to cut Samson Satele, while this will save us $4 million against the cap to spend elsewhere. Getting a C of at least average talent should be a priority in FA, considering that C also counts as one of our core positions on the team. Remember, we must make that foundation stronger with good-to-elite talents filling the core positions. Sure, you can have a sturdy wall, but it can't weather against all storms. Elite players make studier walls, while backup and average and/or solid players makes for nails and glue that holds these walls together. If not, then the wind will knock it down and the big bad wolf will win! The wind sure knocked down Samson Satele a lot throughout the season, didn't it? It's time to make that wall stronger!
Now that we have gotten to this point, would it make sense to spend big money on a WR during FA? Or to even pick one up during draft in the 2nd round when we already have capable WRs that can get open, catch balls, and make plays? I'd say, pick up a C and we will have made our foundation stronger!
Now, you can analyze defense and consider its core positions. I'm somewhat familiar with defense but for a 3-4 defense, I'd say that NT and CB are important roles to fill with good to elite talents. Remember, we want to "stop the run, run the ball". Also, that mantra doesn't say anything about pass rushing the QB. So, in case if you're wondering, I'd say pass rushing against our QBs is a bonus, but not a priority. Bjoern Werner? I would say that he's the "nail and glue" of our defense that keeps the foundation together. He isn't the focus of Chuck Pagano's defense at all. Anyways, our NT stops the run, while our CB defends the ball and breaks up plays - that's our two focus. I think that FS can be another priority on defense, which will allow secondary to make plays. So, Jarius Byrd should be a consideration. Vontae Davis shouldn't be allowed to walk in FA. Josh Chapman has promise, but how sure are we? Do we want to pick up another NT in FA? That's not a bad plan considering it is a core position.
So, we shouldn't go out and pick up pass rushers just because some elite guy is sitting around in FA. See where this is going now?
And then we analyze the special team unit in a similar fashion.
All in all, if Grigson goes out and picks up Mack and Byrd, and then some depth players in FA, then I'll be very, very pleased. Then if Grigson goes into draft and draft depth guys, then I'll be pleased as well. Also, Toler is a good CB but he's injury prone. In this case, if Grigson drafts a good CB or even picks up one during FA, then it will be smart to remain cautious, as well.
Basically, here's our needs for the off season: C, FS, NT, and CB. In that order. Fill at least 2 of those positions with elite players then the Colts will be a very different team in a great way.
So, I hope I have given you guys some idea of how I view the off season. Really, this credit mainly goes to a fellow Colts fan, NightRidah for lighting that bulb in my head. When he mentioned picking up elite players and then building around them, I just got it. Anyways, this is just my perspective on this manner and I'm not going to say this is necessarily 100% the way to go. However, it just makes a lot of sense to me and I hope this makes sense to you as well.
If you have gotten this far, thanks for reading!