Man was I excited watching that game on Thursday night. It was exhilarating to see a team fight and claw and want to win so much. It was a great Christmas present to feel like these were the Colts of old. I'll address ramifications and draft strategy later, but something more pressing hit me during this game.
The Colts' (read Polian's) strategy has been to build nearly exclusively through the draft and Undrafted Free Agents since he arrived in Indy back in 1998. It has worked for him as the list Undrafted Free Agents that have played major roles on this team is impressive. The drafts in recent years continue to be debated, but I'd like to not focus on that.
Until this year, the Colts have been the class of the AFC South. No matter what our rivals tried, it never seemed to work. Ball control offenses, stud pass rushers from the draft and former Colts lured with more money. It all saw very little success. Houston was the first to try something a little different this year.
As I watched this game, I saw a blueprint for whoever is in the front office next year. Follow after the jump to see what I saw.
Houston went out and found NFL proven, Free Agent talent to complete their roster. Free Agent spending is viewed as sacrilegious by some Colts fans and most of the Colts Front office. Let's take a look at what Houston did this off-season and how it changed their team for the better.
Looking at the Texans roster, it breaks down this way;
61 total members
27 drafted by Houston
15 undrafted free agents
19 free agents
Of those 19 free agents,12 are starters for this year.
7 were signed before the 2011 season. Of those 7 players, 3 are currently starting.
I can't go find all the salary info for these players because there is not a great resource for it for us normal fans, but to my eyes, it appears this way. Houston went out and filled needs through both the draft and specifically targeted free agents at value prices. They didn't go crazy like we saw with the "Dream Team" Eagles. They spent effectively and efficiently. I saw success last night even in a loss.
Draft picks like J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed teamed with free agents Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning to turn around a much-maligned defense (bottom 5 to top 5 in one year). A strong coordinator like Wade Phillips has something to do with it too.
I would love to see the Colts do the same thing. There have been some clues that a Chris Polian led team may look at a strategy like this. While I loathe the nepotism that led to Chris being in the position he is, the signing of Tommie Harris and Jamal Anderson this off-season are outside the normal operational model of Bill Polian. I know they kicked non-Colts drafted players like Harris and Justin Tryon to the curb this year. I think that's Bill still trying to hold on. Maybe Chris putting his stamp on things will be different..
Same with the draft this year. The picks of Anthony Costanzo, Ben Ijalana and Drake Nevis addressed specific needs that were obvious to all. In past years, things that have seemed obvious to most of the football loving world have been held off until later rounds just to show that our front office didn't need their advice. If this new trend continues, I think it bodes well for our team.
Maybe Chris will have the smarts to get good coaches in places and let them run things. Maybe Mike Murphy is the first step. This is something his father clearly could not do. That's how the GM should act. He should not be involved in who plays and who doesn't. I haven't seen any evidence that Chris is willing to give up the control that Bill set up as his inheritance, but I am an optimist at heart.
Let's move into this off-season with an eye toward improving in every way possible. Current player progression, draft and free agency.
I personally would like to see the free agent acquisitions center around the defensive backfield. My thoughts are that if we could find moves out there like the Joseph and Manning pick ups in Houston, it would turn our biggest weakness into a team strength. We cannot hide behind the dogma that the draft is the only way to build a team. It still needs to be the major building tool, but for this team to turn things around, this much be our most effective off-season ever.
While the face of this team seems to be moving down the road of recovery, he cannot lead the team as currently constructed to the Championship he desires and deserves. My hope is that, if Manning is healthy, we can follow the blueprint that we just saw in Houston to maximize all the ways this team can improve and not have the arrogance that our traditional methods are the only way to be successful.
If Manning is not healthy, then all bets are off. Full rebuilding mode it is.