On Sunday, the Colts will play their regular season finale, and then they’ll sit at home for the postseason for the second straight year. It’s clear that Jim Irsay can’t just let it be business as usual for the franchise yet again this offseason, not with Andrew Luck finishing up his fifth season and no closer to a Super Bowl than he was a couple of years ago.
That means that it’s entirely possible that come Monday, things could be different with this franchise. It’s possible that Irsay will make the decision to fire general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, opting to go in a different direction - and one that his franchise needs, too.
I don’t expect Irsay to fire Grigson unless he has a replacement in mind, however. I think part of Irsay’s thinking in bringing Grigson and Pagano back last year was that there wasn’t a clear upgrade out there, and I doubt he’s going to be willing to admit a mistake after just one year without an idea of who he’ll bring in to replace them. So if on Monday Irsay announces that he’s firing the two, I assume that Irsay would have an idea already about who would replace Grigson as GM (and then that GM would hire a coach).
That’s what makes the Peyton Manning speculation particularly interesting. Surely you’ve heard it by this point: there have been rumors about Manning re-joining the Colts, and earlier this week two very well-informed members of the Indianapolis media added to that speculation. Basically, the talk is that Jim Irsay is currently pursuing Peyton Manning to take on a management role of the franchise with which Manning played 14 years. There’s nothing concrete yet to report, but the indications certainly suggest that it’s something going on right now.
So let’s just suppose that Jim Irsay is in fact seriously pursuing Peyton Manning to replace Ryan Grigson (which, again, is just speculation at this point). It would be a HUGE move that would bring tons of indifferent Colts fans flooding back to the team. It would spark immediate and massive interest with this team again. It would be a move to replace an unpopular GM with the largest figure in franchise history and a living legend in Indiana. But would it be a good move? That’s not as clear-cut.
From Jim Irsay’s perspective, though, it makes a ton of sense. His team right now has been subjected to ridicule and laughter. He’s missed the playoffs in the past two years. He’s endured the fake punt fiasco and deflategate bringing unwanted negative attention on the franchise, and if he’s been paying attention at all he’s noticed that Colts fans are fed up with the current regime and are checking out and indifferent. At the same time, if he fires Grigson and Pagano just one year after giving both men contract extensions, he’ll open himself up to plenty of criticism from people as well for admitting he made a mistake. So while he needs to make a move that’s right for the franchise on-the-field first and foremost, he also needs to make a move that will reinvigorate this fanbase. And there is absolutely no move that would do that more than hiring Peyton Manning, the greatest legend in Colts history, to take the reigns.
But it wouldn’t just be blind faith, either. Irsay worked with Manning for 14 years and became good friends with him, and he surely was able to notice up-close Manning’s knowledge of the game. Bill Polian said that Manning used to talk with him about prospects entering the draft, and he said that Manning knew the rosters of the other teams and their strengths and weaknesses. So in addition to being a move that would do massive things for the fanbase, Irsay would be counting on that football knowledge being able to translate to putting together a team.
It’s that aspect of it that makes the move a big risk: Manning hasn’t done it before. Even John Elway had experience in the AFL before he re-joined the Broncos to run their team, so hiring Manning would be more of a risk. And with the Andrew Luck era already five years in, Irsay needs to make sure that this hire is the guy who can take the Colts to the Super Bowl. An additional problem with hiring Manning would be that he’s pretty much un-firable. Cutting Manning was understandable: the legend was injured, the Colts were rebuilding, and they had a chance to take Luck. It made sense for both sides to part ways. But firing Manning as GM would be different, and you’d probably have to shift Manning to a different role in the organization to have him still be in management. Basically, it would be incredibly hard to fire a legend of Manning’s stature and sell it to Colts fans. So this is a move that Irsay must be confident in.
While Manning is a big risk, there’s also plenty of reason to think that he’d be able to succeed. He’d be given patience from the fanbase and from the owner (probably as much patience as any general manager could ever receive), and he’s incredibly smart when it comes to football. The big question is about his experience, and the Colts and Manning would have to try to compensate for that - and I absolutely think both would be eager to. That would mean bringing in some experienced people to surround Manning with, people whom he could lean on for advice and who have experience who could help him along as he gets started (like, for example, Tom Telesco if he’s fired in San Diego). Think about it: Manning spent 18 years in the NFL and has plenty of connections, and he could bring in a number of people he trusts who can help him learn the ropes. Furthermore, he’d have a Hall of Fame general manager (Bill Polian) and a Hall of Fame head coach (Tony Dungy) just a phone call away, he’d have an owner who’s more experienced in football matters than most (Jim Irsay), and if he adds to that a staff that’s got experience, the Colts could minimize the impact the lack of experience would have.
I have confidence that Manning, if he were to be hired, would be ready and willing to rely on others to help him along as gets started as a general manager. And if that happens, combined with his football knowledge, what he means to the franchise, and the life it would spark into this fanbase, it makes a lot of sense for Jim Irsay to make the move. It would be a risk and a bold move, but it could pay off in a big way. I think it’s a risk absolutely worth taking for Jim Irsay, and I’d be in favor of the move. Now, we wait and see whether it’s one that actually happens or if it stays just mere speculation.