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What is the biggest risk the Colts are taking entering 2017?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, Bleacher Report’s Sean Tomlinson offered up his take on the biggest risk each team is taking entering the 2017 season.

It’s an interesting discussion topic, because the reality is that no team is perfect and there are holes on every roster (some more obvious than others), and in many cases this involves taking a risk that the hole(s) won’t come back to hurt them.

For the Colts, Tomlinson listed their biggest risk as the offensive line, since they didn’t really address it. That’s a predictable response, and it’s a valid one. The Colts and their fans are excited to see what the offensive linemen can do and there is genuine optimism that seems warranted. But whether you’re optimistic about the unit or not, it can be agreed that it’s a risk to rely so heavily upon the improvement of some of these young players.

That’s why the offensive line position is a very valid choice for the Colts’ biggest risk, but I’d offer another possibility: keeping Chuck Pagano around.

I view this as the biggest risk the Colts are taking entering 2017, and here’s why: with a new general manager in Chris Ballard now running the show, a ton of new players, and a franchise quarterback coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, the Colts are completely in a rebuild. It might not be as drastic of a rebuild as some other teams face - because the Colts have their QB in place, after all - but it’s still a rebuild. Through it all is head coach Chuck Pagano, however, who’s returning for his sixth season as the team’s head coach.

Throughout his tenure, he hasn’t been a great head coach in wins or in losses, and he’s been helped out a lot by an inflated record due in large part to Andrew Luck and the AFC South. But he’s survived being fired each of the past few years, and in fact Jim Irsay kept him around this offseason despite firing GM Ryan Grigson. Instead, Irsay boldly proclaimed that Pagano will be better than ever in 2017, implying that it was mainly Grigson who was to blame for the recent struggles. This year, however, there’s no Ryan Grigson to hide behind when it comes to the blame game, and Pagano will be closely evaluated by Irsay and Ballard. And, since a new GM almost always prefers to bring in his own guy as a head coach, that’s the expected outcome of many Colts fans. The Colts will be evaluating Pagano in a number of areas (not just wins and losses), and at the end of the year they’ll make their decision.

You might be saying, ‘yeah, that’s great, but why is that a risk?’ Here’s what the Colts are risking: they’re risking getting off to an even slower start in their rebuild, with Andrew Luck entering his sixth season. There’s no reason to worry about Luck passing the prime of his career anytime soon, but the Colts can’t just take a year in 2017 to test out the coach. Whereas they could have been getting underway with a new head coach already, they’ve decided to stick to Pagano.

The risk comes from the fact that, if Pagano is fired after (or during) the 2017 season, most fans will see it as the expected outcome - thus wondering why Irsay even bothered to bring Pagano back in the first place. At that point, the Colts would be bringing in a new head coach to continue their rebuild, and - most importantly - likely be bringing in a new defensive system (regardless of whether it’s the familiar 3-4 or not). The Colts spent a lot of money and resources this offseason on the defensive side of the football to add players that they think fit their system, so bringing in a new scheme next year could, perhaps, hinder this year’s moves too.

Keep in mind that I’m discussing this as what could happen, not what will happen - even if Pagano gets fired, it’s possible that this 2017 season still won’t be a wasted year and that the team will be just a head coach away from taking the next step. That’s possible, but so is an alternative where firing Pagano makes the 2017 season seem like little more than an evaluation period of the coach.

The Colts are hoping that Pagano will impress enough to convince them that he’s their guy for the long-haul moving forward, but if that happens it might be the riskiest outcome of them all.

What do you think is the biggest risk the Colts are taking this year?