Though the 2015 season was a rough one for the Indianapolis Colts, it's nevertheless a great time to be a Colts fan.
Last year, former general manager Bill Polian was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and this August, former head coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison will join him in Canton. In February, former quarterback Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl; in early March Manning retired from the NFL; and last week Manning returned to the Colts organization, when it was announced that the team will honor him with a statue and retired number.
Colts owner Jim Irsay is proud of the recognition that is now coming - deservedly so - to his franchise as a standing testament to an incredible run. Irsay shared the stage with Manning last Friday and was overflowing with excitement, and Irsay will share the stage with Harrison this August as he presents him in the Hall of Fame induction. In the midst of it all, however, Irsay is also overseeing a franchise that hopes to return to the Super Bowl and echo the success of the previous era. And Irsay wants his current general manager, Ryan Grigson, and his current head coach, Chuck Pagano, to reflect on the past era to see how to build this current one.
"I obviously implore Ryan and Chuck," Irsay told reporters this week, according to the Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder. "It's really important they both understand the legacy that was before them. They see these things happening with Tony Dungy and Marvin and Peyton [Manning], etc. and what that era was. That era is kind of echoing around them. They know what the horseshoe means, going from [Johnny] Unitas to Bert Jones to the [Jim] Harbaugh year and to the great era with Peyton."
"With [Bill] Polian hitting on Dallas Clark and hitting on Bob Sanders, and always [drafting] in the late 20s or past there," Irsay continued, "Those guys came in and had major contributions. Obviously, with [Bjoern] Werner and the Trent Richardson [trade], Ryan's well aware and Chuck is well aware, that's something we missed on and that hurts. That's someone who could be here contributing that's not. But again, you have Henry Anderson and Denzelle Good and David Parry and [Clayton] Geathers. I think this last draft is going to prove to be a really good one."
His point is simple: the Colts built through the draft in their previous era, and they need to do so again. It's a change in philosophy for a team that has been among the leading spenders in free agency in recent years, and that change seems to start with Irsay. Last year, he bought into the all in mentality as the Colts pursued the Super Bowl. This year, he seems to have taken a step back and displayed more patience, giving Grigson and Pagano more leeway and, perhaps most importantly, more job security in giving them both extensions.
The Colts are reaching a point with their current era where a lot of their money will be tied up in keeping their own. T.Y. Hilton, Anthony Castonzo, and Dwayne Allen have already received extensions in the past year, while Andrew Luck's is coming at some point this offseason, if things go according to plan. The Colts will have some money to work with, but primarily they will need to hit on their draft picks and build through the draft, something that Irsay realizes hasn't exactly been a strong suit of this regime like it was with Bill Polian as he was building the old Colts' team.
The message is clear: continuity and drafting are key. Jim Irsay held up his end of the deal by keeping both Grigson and Pagano around against all odds, and now he hopes that the two look back at the past to see the importance of drafting, hit on their picks, and get the Colts back to the Super Bowl once again.