Welcome to Wonderland, folks.
The team has been bad. Fans have been displeased. Off with their heads has been the chant, and it has grown louder.
Now that the heads are starting to roll, what does it all mean?
It has been a rough season for Colts fans. A year ago, the fan base was confident that an average signal caller could lead the Colts on a playoff run. This year, the same fan base was cautiously optimistic that a veteran like Matt Ryan could do the same - after all, Philip Rivers had some success in a similar situation.
Now, fans are left scratching their heads.
To understand where the Colts are, we must be honest about where the Colts are coming from.
A neck injury to Peyton Manning coincided with Andrew Luck’s entry into the NFL. General Manager Ryan Grigson’s tenure started with Luck gift-wrapped at the first pick. In terms of first-time general manager wish lists, this was about as much as you could ask for.
Luck showed incredible ability, despite having a flawed team. It was aging at important positions and had plenty of holes to fill. Chris Polian’s short draft tenure wasn’t anything to get excited about, and Grigson had to find a way to get the most out of his young quarterback on his rookie contract.
Grigson’s greatest failure was putting an offensive line together that could adequately protect Luck. Andrew Luck was one of the most hit-and-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL for years. His mobility and desire to extend plays did him no favors.
Ultimately, injuries to numerous areas of his body - including bruises and lacerations to his organs - led him to conclude that his life would be better off without all the pain and lost time in rehab. Make no mistake, Frank Reich and Chris Ballard were thrown a historic NFL curve ball with Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement.
Everything that has happened since that time has been an effort to recover. No position is more important in the NFL than quarterback, and after landing two generational players in a row, the Colts appear to be all out of Luck.
Quarterback purgatory is a real thing in the NFL.
Suppose you have a General Manager who is a good player evaluator who can put a competitive football team on the field at every other position. In that case, you won’t lose enough games to pick high enough to get a top prospect at quarterback (most of the time).
So, how do you fix it? Where does the hamster wheel stop?
No general manager or coaching staff will willingly tank absent an edict by their owner. Even then, the owner can’t openly admit to tanking lest he or she risks losing the rest of the staff, the locker room, and most importantly, the fan base.
This is a results business at every level. Fans attend when the games are competitive and when they feel like the team can win. Players play hard when they believe in their coaches, in one another, and when they feel supported by the front office and ownership.
Fans don’t feel like the team is trying to win, and players couldn’t possibly feel supported.
Marcus Brady was let go as the team’s offensive coordinator last week. Nyheim Hines was traded to the Bills because he wanted a chance to play and was tired of waiting for it. Ryan Kelly’s statement after Frank Reich announced Sam Ehlinger as the starting quarterback moving forward wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the move.
Now Frank Reich is gone. No one with any experience calling plays on offense is currently in the building at W 56th St. Tomorrow, the team will practice and try to prepare for a regular season football game in Las Vegas, and whoever is responsible for installing the game plan has either not done it before or hasn’t even been introduced to the players.
Fans are now utterly convinced the tank is on. I’m sure players are too. The coaching staff? What are you coaching for, and how confident are you that you can salvage this season under the circumstances?
And to think, just before the trade deadline, I wrote a story explaining that the Colts were a Mark Glowinski away from leading the AFC South and competing for a playoff spot. Hopefully, that wasn’t right. If it was, there’s a lot of change coming for a small and otherwise fixable reason.