With the offseason just days away it is possible that the Colts have never had such an important one ahead of them. Given the potential some of the Colts young players have shown, there is the possibility that the right circumstances could take this team from being one of the worst teams in football right back to the top of the division. But just what are those circumstances? Here are five critical things that need to happen for the Colts to see significant improvement this offseason.
Fire Chuck Pagano and Hire the Next Head Coach
Part one is a layup. We’ve all talked about it all season long, now the moment of truth is nearly at hand. While it seems like a foregone conclusion, there are many things that could be used to persuade Jim Irsay that this season was out of Pagano’s hands. It is important that he do what makes sense and move on as soon as the season has concluded.
While getting rid of Pagano will be a great start, it cannot be the end. Irsay and Ballard will need to make the right coaching hire. There are going to be a ton of teams looking to hire a head coach this offseason and so it’ll be important to be decisive and move quickly once they know who they want. If they don’t get this hire right they will likely be wasting the remainder of Luck’s prime, assuming he returns as good as new.
The front office would do well to ignore fan noise and hire a coach that has the most potential and has proven to be innovative, is able to manage the game, is great at developing young players, and has a history of winning in whatever role he finds himself. Jon Gruden is not the answer, folks.
Evaluate and Make Changes to Medical and Training Staff
The Colts have been an injury-riddled mess. They have 17 players on injured reserve, including Andrew Luck and 3 of the 5 starting offensive linemen. Some of the injuries are a part of football. We understand that the sport is one that causes lots of injuries and that it is unavoidable that some important players might be lost.
However, the Colts need to seriously be considering overhauling this whole area on their staff, because this season is the worst in what has become a trend of fielding teams that limp down the stretch with lingering injuries and lots of players on injured reserve. Even the best teams in the league can have their seasons derailed by injury, and if there is any way the Colts can help improve in the methods they use to prevent injuries, they should explore them.
Evaluate Their QB Room
Chris Ballard needs to know exactly what he has at the starting quarterback position. If Andrew Luck is back to normal or better, they are set and that puts them on one draft path. If he is not going to be the same player as he was, the number three pick in the draft would be a pretty good place to think about the next guy. Let me just say that I am not in the doom and gloom camp. Based on the information that we actually know, not just rumors perpetuated by former basketball players wishing for their glory days, Luck is progressing and there is plenty of reason to think he will be back to normal.
However, if the Colts don’t know for sure what they’ve got before the draft, it would put them at a major disadvantage should Luck’s long-term health prove to be more tenuous than expected. What it looks like from the film is that Jacoby Brissett is a good backup, but not a quality starting quarterback at this time. That means if they think Luck is not coming back, they will need to be thinking about their quarterback going forward. Let’s hope it does not come to that.
Address Major Roster Holes
This Colts roster has a lot of holes in it. They need to improve at literally every position on the offensive side of the ball, the entire linebacker corps, and in the defensive backfield. Regardless of how many draft picks and how much free agency money the Colts have, they won’t be able to do all that in one offseason. That means deciding what positions are the most important to be addressed this offseason through both free agency and the draft.
This has to be pretty flexible because most of it will depend on who is available, but in my opinion, of all those needs, these are the priorities in order: pass rusher, offensive guard, inside linebacker, receiver, running back, cornerback. If we were able to address all of those positions in a significant way this offseason and assuming Andrew Luck is back and healthy, this would look like a dramatically different team.
Decide Who They Will Re-sign
The Colts have a decent sized group of free agents this offseason and will need to decide which of them gets re-signed and which to let seek their fortunes elsewhere. Guys like Pierre Desir and Rashaan Melvin have proven they deserve serious consideration to be signed, but might not be worth the kind of money they can get elsewhere.
Jack Mewhort has been a decent guard, but given his injury history, may not warrant even a team-friendly contract. Donte Moncrief has shown potential playing with Andrew Luck but has been injured, floundered, and shown himself to be a me-first guy at times who quit on routes and had little impact on the season. Then there are players like Frank Gore and Adam Vinatieri who are at the twilight of their careers. Do you re-sign them or look for their replacements now? These are all questions that will need to be answered this offseason.
Chris Ballard has a serious task ahead of him. He infused talent into a defense that was completely devoid of it. He will need to do the same with the offense while finding pieces to help the defense take another leap forward. Most importantly, he will need to lead the search for a coach who can develop this roster into a perennial contender so they do not fritter away the rest of Andrew Luck’s prime. Oh yeah, and he needs to crush his draft. So, all in all, no pressure.
In 2-3 years we will look back at the 2018 offseason and use it as a means of measuring Chris Ballard as a general manager. This is his chance to cement himself as a great mind in the NFL or to leave a franchise floating in the abyss. Let’s all hope this guy knocks it out of the park.