There was some talk over the past few months about whether the NFL would or should dock the Colts a draft pick or two as part of owner Jim Irsay's punishment. All along, I was adamant about the fact that it was unlikely to happen and unfair if it did. By docking a draft pick, the league would have been punishing the entire team and franchise for the mistake of one man, even if that one man is the team's owner. Punish Irsay, but don't punish others because of his mistake.
The NFL got it right in not docking the Colts a draft pick, but they still made an example with Irsay, suspending him six games and fining him $500,000 (the maximum). The suspension for Irsay will take effect Wednesday at 5 p.m. and prohibits him from attending practices, games, team functions, owner's meetings, media interviews, and tweeting from his twitter account. And make no mistake: this suspension will affect Jim Irsay. The fine? Nah, he can manage that (though still, writing that check for $500K will make anybody think twice). But the suspension? Yeah, that'll affect him big-time.
I've seen several national media members and even more fans talking about how this is hardly a "punishment" at all but rather an excuse for a long vacation for the owner. The fact that he's not allowed to be at practice isn't a discipline at all in the minds of a lot of people. But not Jim Irsay.
This is a guy who lives football. He breathes football. He's always been around it; he knows nothing else. He was 13 when his father, Robert, took over ownership of the Baltimore Colts, and ever since Jim has been involved in some way and some form. At some times it was as a fan (with connections), at others it was as a ball boy. He has served as a team executive, vice president, chief operation officer and general manager over the past few decades since the Colts have moved to Indianapolis. Ever since the move to Indy, Jim Irsay hasn't missed a game. Not a single one in over 30 years. That's well over 500 games in a row, when you include playoffs.
When Irsay took over as owner after his father's death in 1997, he began an era of excellence never seen before in the NFL. Beginning in 1998, Irsay laid the foundations for the future. He hired Bill Polian, now widely regarded as the greatest executive in league history, and drafted Peyton Manning, now prominently in the discussion for the greatest quarterback of all time. The Colts would win 10 or more games in 11 different seasons with Manning. Then, he made the toughest decision he's ever made in regards to his franchise - he cut Manning. He drafted Andrew Luck, and since his arrival the Colts have added two more double-digit win seasons and two more playoff appearances.
Through it all, Irsay has been involved. Not in the controlling-everything type way that Jerry Jones is, but rather in the way that an owner should be. Irsay brings a wealth of football knowledge, having the rare trait for an owner of having grown up in the league and having worked as a general manager and in other roles within the franchise. Current Colts GM Ryan Grigson has talked before about what a great resource Irsay is for him and that he can bounce football ideas off of the owner whenever needed. Irsay understands it - but at the same time, he pays Grigson for a reason, and he lets his GM do his job. He lets his head coach, Chuck Pagano, do his job. Irsay is involved in every aspect, yes, but his biggest role is as supporter. He lets people do the jobs that they were hired to do.
That's why this suspension won't affect the Colts too much. Irsay's daughter, Carlie Irsay-Gordon, will assume the role of owner and oversee the day-to-day operations of the team, and longtime chief operating officer Pete Ward and general manager Ryan Grigson will take on added responsibilities as well. But the Colts will be fine. Irsay has competent people around him, and he's empowered them to do their jobs without needing him around. The Colts will be just fine, and they'll move on with business as usual over the next six weeks. I'm not saying they won't miss Irsay - they certainly will, as he's their biggest fan and supporter. It'll be great when Jim is back, but in terms of running the team, the Colts should be fine. The suspension will certainly affect the owner himself in a much greater way, however.
Understand this, if you get nothing else from this article: for most of the other NFL owners, a six-game suspension from all football activities wouldn't be such a terrible thing. But for Jim Irsay, it will be very hard. You'd be hard-pressed to find an owner who enjoys his job more than Jim Irsay. This isn't just a team he owns or a hobby he does, this is his life. It always has been. And now, he has to be away for six weeks. This isn't a vacation for Irsay.
In the grand scheme of things, this will be good for Jim Irsay, I really believe that. I can't tell you how encouraged I am just by seeing him now - before, he looked terrible and unhealthy, but now he is looking great. His arrest may have been the best thing that could have happened to him, because it forced him to confront the issues and get help (which he did). A six game suspension isn't much to pay in exchange for that.
But at the same time, please don't make the mistake of saying that this doesn't affect Jim Irsay or that a suspension for an owner doesn't matter. Maybe for some owners it doesn't, but for Jim Irsay it does. He's going to have to be away from the team for the next six weeks. His team. It'll be new for him. The team will be fine, and ultimately this situation will likely prove to be a great thing for Irsay to have had happen. For the next six weeks, Jim Irsay will be away from the Colts. It won't affect the Colts operations as much, but it sure as heck will affect the team's owner.