The Colts have failed to build a particularly good defense, which is clear to anybody who watches them play.
Even general manager Ryan Grigson admits that they’re not great right now, but that building the unit is a work in progress. What makes it harder? Andrew Luck’s contract. That’s the reason Grigson gave this week on the radio with FOX Sports’ Jay Mohr, as pointed out by the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer. Grigson said that when they’re paying Luck the contract they’re paying him, it makes it harder to build a defense. For context, here’s the full quote (I’ve put emphasis on the particular part of interest):
“We have missed on picks. That’s for sure, we have, and I have to do better in that respect. But when you compile all four drafts I think we’ve done a good job, I think we really have. The offensive side of the ball is definitely going the right direction. I think a lot of teams throughout the league, objectively, from scouting departments would say we’re pretty strong on the offensive side of the ball. I mean obviously our quarterback [Andrew Luck], the tight end position. We have a young offensive line, we’ve got to get some cohesion up front, but again we used four draft picks this year on the offensive line [and] all four of them are contributing, at times three are starting. So it’s a good start, there’s going to be bumps whenever you deal with rookies.
“The defensive side of the ball, you know we’ve never come out and said it’s Super Bowl or bust this year. We have a defense that is a work in progress, and when you have to tighten up once you pay Andrew what we did, it’s going to take some time to build on the other side of the ball. So we’ve got young players like Clayton Geathers, T.J. Green, Henry Anderson has played some really good football for us as well, David Parry is a starter. We’ve got a lot of players on that side of the ball that are on the come, but nothing’s ever perfect. There are no utopias on an NFL team and we’ve just got to keep every year trying to do better and we’ve won a lot of football games here, our coach has won, I don’t know, 44 games out of 70 I believe, and it’s a pretty darn good winning percentage. So we have a lot of things to be proud of, but at the same time we’re 1-3 and the expectations around Indianapolis are always going to be high because of the great success this franchise has had.”
So basically, Grigson is saying that because of Andrew Luck’s contract it makes it harder to build the defense, and he’s right. The Colts gave Luck a six-year extension this offseason that’s worth $140 million, so a significant portion of the team’s salary cap will be taken up from here on out by their quarterback. So in that regard, Grigson is right: his job is now tougher in having to work around Luck’s contract. But even then, it’s been done over and over again in the NFL where a top-tier quarterback who is getting paid a lot of money is on a good team with a good defense - look no further than the Denver Broncos, who had Peyton Manning and a large salary for him yet John Elway still did a tremendous job of building the defense. You know how he did so? By making smart moves. So even while Grigson’s excuse is understandable when we’re talking about in future years, it still feels like a cheap excuse.
But here’s where the quote is pretty ridiculous: Luck is just four games into that new contract, and in fact for the past four years he was one of the bigger bargains in football. He played the first four seasons of his career on his rookie contract, which was a four-year deal worth around $22.1 million - an average of just around $5.5 million. And when you can get a quarterback of Luck’s caliber for an average of just $5.5 million a year, it’s an absolute steal. So Grigson has been working with one of the bigger bargains in football recently, yet he still failed to build a defense. So while some might choose to give Grigson the benefit of the doubt and say he was simply talking about the team moving forward, his past failures makes his reasoning laughable.
With Luck super cheap, the Colts swung and missed on a lot of free agent moves. They failed to build their defense, too, as they don’t have a single defensive draft pick on their roster from the 2012-2014 drafts. Across the board Grigson has struggled to build a competent defense even with Luck on a super cheap contract, so he has no right to now use that as an excuse for the defense being a work in progress right now. Reggie Wayne actually pointed out something along these lines in his critique of the front office this week: the Seahawks took advantage of Russell Wilson’s bargain contract to build the team around him so that even when he got paid, they’d still be good. The Colts didn’t do the same with Andrew Luck.
In short, no matter what Grigson was trying to say when he mentioned Luck’s contract as a reason for the defense being a work in progress, he failed in conveying that point because it doesn’t apply to his first four years. He had a huge bargain at quarterback and yet still failed to build a competent defense, so he can’t use Luck’s contract now as the reason why the defense is struggling.