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Bash The G.M. And Then Praise The G.M.


Prior to his current gig as general manager for the Indianapolis Colts, Ryan Grigson spent seven years working in Philadelphia. He knows all about getting bashed, beaten, and pummeled in the press and by fans. When it's all said and done, no franchise has given it's fanbase more letdowns than the Eagles. From 1999 to the present, that organization has played in five NFC Championships, losing four of them.

Andy Reid has been the coach of the Eagles during that time, and no coach has been more disappointing in the post-season more than he has when it comes to getting close to the prize... and then failing. Miserably. Often the reason for the team under-performing can be traced directly to decisions in-game by Reid. Yet, the man still has a job not just as the head coach, but also as the supreme lord and master of the Eagles organization. He has full roster control. The general manager answers to him. When Ryan Grigson was there, Reid was his boss. So, when the Eagles choke in the playoffs, or if the start a season 2-5 and miss the playoffs all together, Reid gets butchered by media (as he should).

Yet, Reid endures. Amazingly, he endures.

Criticism comes with the job. When you are in charge of something, people WILL bash you if you do not deliver what is expected. Oftentimes, that criticism is harsh. When it comes to the NFL, people are shelling out lots of dollars for it. Losing isn't something that's taken well, and if it is taken well, that fanbase is a loser fanbase.

The elitism of the previous front office regime in Indianapolis was what drove angry bloggers like myself and Matt Grecco (me being the more upset of the two) to push to have Bill and Chris Polian fired. Their arrogance in believing that they were, somehow, above criticism was a likely factor in Jim Irsay handing both of them their walking papers in January.

In the case of Chris Polian, I think Irsay just couldn't stand him. Irsay didn't even bother to thank him at the press conference announcing the firings. Chris spent fourteen years working for the team. Ouch.

I bring all this up because, after watching all the press conferences, after talking with media, chatting with contacts who are close to the Eagles organization, and getting a general sense of the tone and temperament at West 56th Street in Indianapolis, it's fair to say that Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson is doing a very good job so far in his first year with the team. He's brought a sense of openness and honesty that was sorely needed, and his decisions regarding this current Colts roster are sound, logical, and have fans like me excited about the franchise's future.

Now, before this becomes too much of a love letter to Grigson, let me get this bit of info out there. The big benefit of attending the NFL Draft (which I've done three years now) isn't physically being there when players are picked. That stuff is nice, but it isn't the meat bloggers like me are looking for. I go because I want to talk to people who work in and who cover this league. They provide perspective on how teams are viewed, and what is likely going on behind the scenes.

In the case of Grigson, the man is viewed as little more than a puppet of Irsay. Irsay firing Bill Polian was a move to communicate to the league that Irsay, and Irsay alone, runs the Colts. Grigson was then hired to serve as the G.M., a job that essentially does all the other important roster-related tasks that Irsay doesn't want to do.

Again, this is how the situation is being perceived, and perception in the NFL is everything. Fans and media in Indianapolis do not define the Colts and Ryan Grigson. The team itself certainly doesn't define them. Media outside Indianapolis does. That is the reality of the NFL landscape, like it or not.

The situation with the first overall pick seems to support the "puppet" perception. Irsay reportedly made up his mind on Andrew Luck before Grigson was hired. This meant that when Grigson took the job, the No. 1 pick was one he was not going to make. If Grigson wanted Robert Griffin III, or if he felt it best to trade down and acquire more picks, or if he wanted to keep Peyton Manning, that was just tough. Irsay was making the call on that, which means that Irsay is truly the one in charge; not the general manager.

All that said, it's obvious to me that many of the free agent signings have Grigson's fingerprints all over them. Mike McGlynn and Winston Justice (who was traded for) were both drafted in Philly while Grigson was employed there. Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski, and Brandon McKinney are all former Ravens; a sign that Grigson worked with Colts head coach Chuck Pagano (formerly the D.C. in Baltimore) to bring over some veterans to help install his new defense. Samson Satele is another player similar to the type of offensive linemen Grigson likes: Physical, big, trench-mauler-type.

In regards to the draft, after the Andrew Luck pick, Grigson was able to make moves and selections according to his board. Josh Chapman, Tim Fugger, Justin Anderson, and Chandler Harnish are players the Polian regime would have avoided. While folks like me and others have been critical of Grigson's decisions on draft day, it was very refreshing to see the first year G.M. actually admit that he made mistakes.

To be honest with you, I think I'll get better with each draft, but there are things that I learned definitely through this process. You can't dwell on guys you don't get. You have to move on. I believe I'm competitive, and... oh, it burned me up when we missed out on a couple of guys. It really did.

Just prior to the draft, Grigson provided a very valid argument for his decision-making process. Listening to this now after he took Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and T.Y. Hilton on the second day provides some interesting insight even if, in general, I disagree with passing up need for the generic "best player available":

Just to be honest, once you start working yourself through the draft, and you're like, "Woah, we didn't address this spot yet that we, you know, have a tremendous need at." It's still hard to pass up a really good player. If you're building a team that you want to have sustained success, you want the best players. So, it doesn't do you any good to draft a guy that's just kind of a guy when you compare him to someone else at another position where you, maybe, have a little more depth that's just markedly better, talent-wise. It's tough, sometimes, but you have to be disciplined, I think.

In terms of overall roster-related decisions, it's hard not to like what Grigson is trying to do, even with Irsay meddling the way he is (yes folks, when the owner seemingly decrees to the G.M. who he should select with the No. 1 pick, that pretty much defines the term "meddling").

However, I would argue that it is not Grigson's savvy with player acquisition and development that deserves the most praise. It's his humor, his levity, and his general sense of not being a total and complete jerk that has people like me smiling.

When you have a chance, go watch the Colts post-draft press conferences involving Grigson. The second day presser started with Grigson already in the room and ready for the media before they arrived. When they did walk in, they seemed surprised to see him sitting behind the table. Grigson (6'1, 290 lbs) saw this and joked:

I snuck in on you guys. I'm light on my feet!

The reporters in the room laughed, and already one got the sense that this guy was not going to do things the way the mean-tempered troll who used to run the football operations did.

Press conference involving Bill Polian were tense affairs. Nobody wanted to do them, Polian especially. He seemed annoyed that he had to come out and explain his decisions to this little people with microphones. Grigson doesn't convey that. Neither does Pagano. In fact, both seemed rather shocked at how easy the media was towards them at each draft day presser. Part of the reason for this treatment is the Indianapolis media is softer than Jell-O. The other part is because, after fourteen years of Bill Polian insulting them at every turn, they're just glad they have someone who will treat them with a little respect and class.

I know most fans don't care about this sort of stuff, but it is important. Paranoia and nepotism were big factors in the debacle that was the 2011 season. Bigger factors than Peyton Manning's neck surgery. The roster was devoid of talent (a fact Jim Irsay himself has acknowledged), and the atmosphere around the Colts complex had grown toxic.

Grigson has helped change that.

When all is said and done, our team's G.M. will be judged by one thing, and one thing only: Championships. Winning is expected. If the Colts don't start consistently competing for more rings (and soon!) Colts players will hear crickets instead of claps at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sundays. There is real pressure to get this thing moving back in the right direction. So far, Grigson deserves praise for handling things well, and for helping to change the culture. For the first time in years, I'm legitimately excited about the Colts future. The team is young, talented, and still has enough familiar faces on the roster to keep it competitive.

I like the direction things are going in, and Grigson (so far) deserves a ton of credit for that even if, for the time being, he's viewed by many as Irsay's puppet. The next step for Grigson should be to shake that label. It most likely isn't true, but it's there for a reason.