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Are the Colts Prepared to Lose Today in Order to Win Tomorrow?

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NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Last week Indy Star writer Zak Keefer wrote an interesting piece on Colts owner Jim Irsay and how he views the franchise, Jim Irsay: The owner who’s willing to lose. It’s a long one but worth the read. The basic premise is that Irsay may be willing to let the franchise lose now in order to secure a more prosperous future while Luck is still in his prime.

As a fan, when I first saw the article, I was upset. I want my favorite team to win. I want them to win now. I want them to win often. I don’t even want to think about having an owner who is willing to lose. That’s Browns logic, not Colts logic.

After some reflection, I can at least see why Irsay may be willing to lose this season, to have the opportunity to win more championships in the future. As Keefer noted, Irsay is on record as saying he’d be more than willing to sacrifice several of those 12-win seasons for another Lombardi. He seems willing to lose now to win later.

The idea is so Machiavellian.

It’s so Irsay.

Here’s the thing, Irsay isn’t wrong. It pains me to say he may even be right. While Irsay would never say they are tanking this year, most of the moves this off-season make it seems like that’s the case.

The team quelled the blood lust of the fans by cutting ties with inept former GM Ryan Grigson and brought in one of the most desired young GM candidates in years with Chris Ballard. Ballard, for good reason, then promptly jettisoned half of the roster Grigson assembled. It builds a buffer period for the front office and staff so if this season does not go well, there’s a built in excuse.

The team kept Chuck Pagano on as head coach. Pagano is proving time and again that he’s in over his head. Most of the fan base liked Pagano so the immediate reaction wasn’t terrible. But, as Pagano showed again this past weekend against the 49ers, umm... I mean Rams, he is not an NFL head coach. He’s a rah-rah guy. He’s a defensive assistant, maybe a defensive coordinator at best.

Pagano will lose games he’s supposed to win. Then when this season is over, the team can jettison Pagano and bring in Ballard’s choice for head coach. Who knows? Maybe Irsay even presented this option to Ballard when he hired him. This may help explain why Ballard agreed to retain Pagano, even when it was clear to see that he also belonged on the chopping block.

It can be argued that the team failed to address the backup QB situation when it appeared likely Andrew Luck would not return in time to start the season. I believe this criticism is a bit overblown. Cam Newton had the same surgery and is back on the field, although he is struggling, so the Panthers may have brought him back too soon.

If the team felt Luck was supposed to be back, why sign a high priced veteran QB to be a backup? I wouldn’t have. When it became apparent Luck wasn’t coming back, Ballard made a trade for a solid backup in Jacoby Brissett. It was late in the process but they still made the move.

The team has been extra cautious with Luck. Luck is the franchise. The offensive line is still rather offensive without Ryan Kelly in the fold. If I’m Chris Ballard, Luck is staying far away from opponents while I am forced to start a rookie undrafted free agent at center. Besides, it’s best long-term to not bring Luck back too soon.

Keeping Luck out gives Ballard an opportunity to let Pagano coach himself out of a job. Without Luck digging the team out of holes that were partially created by shoddy planning, Pagano’s coaching deficiencies will be highlighted. After seeing this past week’s game, I’d guess that the decision has already been made.

But what’s the end-game if Irsay is willing to let the team lose? How can the Colts benefit?

Well, it just so happens that the 2018 NFL Draft is projected to have the best overall QB class since Luck entered the league. This talented class generates additional value in high draft picks, increasing the likelihood that teams can trade back for a King’s ransom.

The Titans received two first, two second and two third round picks from the Rams for an “adequate” starting NFL QB in Jared Goff. The talent in this QB class is far greater than Goff’s class. It is reasonable to think that the Colts could receive an even more attractive offer from a team that is in love with any of the top three QBs, but also happens to be outside the top five picks.

Yes, tanking this season would be almost as frustrating as 2011 when the team went 2-14. However, this year the Colts will be in position to make a trade to accumulate picks. I know a couple New York based teams could use a QB and one of them has multiple first round picks in 2018.

Also, let’s be real. The current Colts roster is not talented enough to win their division, let alone a championship. Grigson really, really set the franchise back and it will take time to fix those issues. The best way to fix those issues is through the draft. The best way to get the best players in the draft is to lose and receive the highest picks possible. Even better, trade those high picks for even more early round selections and you might make a rebuilding effort even faster.

It’s not ideal. Nothing about it would be fun.

Wait, snap out of it. The team isn’t tanking, they’re just being extra cautious with bringing Luck back, right? They won’t lose now to win later, right?

It’s so Machiavellian.

It’s so Irsay.