We’re deep into the task of opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Door #18 – The Colts
2012 finish: 11-5; lost in Wild Card
TOTAL PICKS: 6
48 (254) (compensatory selection)
Last year, new Colts GM Ryan Grigson faced a daunting task when he was hired to guide his team into the post-Peyton Manning, post-Jeff Saturday, post-Dallas Clark, post-head coach Jim Caldwell era. In fact, Grigson’s job was even more daunting than that sounds – he was the man in charge that made the decisions to cut loose those iconic players. Give the 41-year old rising star in the front office credit. He didn’t let the public pressure during the transition away from an old era affect his decision-making (especially the potential scrutiny that would follow, should the team flounder after trading Manning to Denver). Grigson jettisoned fan favourites, spent his draft picks unconventionally after taking can’t-miss prospect Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, and hired a relatively unknown defensive coordinator at head coach.
Turns out, things went pretty well. The Colts were by far the most feel-good team in the NFL last season. But it didn’t start out that way. New head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia early on in the season and had to leave the team for chemotherapy. But then the team went on a storybook run – replete with nail-biting wins – to unexpectedly make the playoffs after just 2 wins in 2011. This happened while new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took over the head coaching duties until Pagano returned. Arians won Head Coach Of The Year, and all the while Luck managed to somehow exceed expectations and ease the transmission out of the Manning era. (Sure, Luck made a number of ill-advised throws during his rookie season, but given the circumstances he showed the potential to be one of the greats.)
Alas, an NFL general’s manager is never done. Now, Grigson must lead his team into the post-Arian, post-Dwight Freeney era. The award-winning head coach clearly wasn’t going to pass up all of the head coaching opportunities that came his way after his meteoric rise. (That saying…. Anyone ever heard of a meteor rising? Just saying.) And after 11 great seasons in Indianapolis likely Hall Of Famer Freeney was informed that the team would not require his services next season.
Grigson’s first move was to address the most obvious need. He hired Pep Hamilton as his new offensive coordinator. According to espn.com, Hamilton’s official job title when he was at Stanford while Luck was there was “Andrew Luck Director Of Offense”, so it’s safe to say that the growing pains for the second-year QB will be minimal.
The next phase of the offseason came with free agency. To top off his successful first campaign, Grigson set the franchise up with a windfall of space under the cap for this offseason. Indy entered the free agency period with 58 players already under contract and more than $40 million left to spend. So let’s check out the major needs that have and will factor into Grigson’s new offseason challenge.
The secondary got scorched in 2012, to the tune of ten regular season games with a 100-yard game by an opposing receiver. It’s easy to blame cornerback play on that, but Antoine Bethea and Sergio Brown weren’t ideal at safety by any means, either. Indy signed LaRon Landry from the Jets, but that’s not going to cut it on its own. What’s more, a pass rush and downfield coverage tend to have a symbiotic relationship to one another and after letting Freeney and his 107.5 career sacks go as a free agent, it might behoove the Colts to address that by drafting an outside rusher to go with free agent acquisitions Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean-Francois at defensive tackle.
See, this is the thing: everyone I’m listening to is talking about Indy going defense with their top and/or upper selections in the draft. But the Colts offensive line allowed Luck to get sacked 41 times last season. That’s way too much for a young QB who is already the lifeblood of his franchise. The media – and Grigson – weren’t shy heading into the free agency period about acknowledging the team’s need to upgrade the O-line. Then, Indy went out and signed free agents T Gosder Cherilus (from Detroit) and G Donald Thomas (New England). Both players come over from prolific passing games that couldn’t block to save their lives last year. Now everyone’s talking about how the Colts will go defense? I don’t get it. Grigson showed last year that he knows how important it is to put Luck in a position to succeed – and that he isn’t afraid to draft a position heavily to do it – when he picked two tight ends in the first three rounds last year. I just don’t see how this team can pass up good blockers in the upper rounds if they’re on the board. Standing pat with Cherilus and Thomas just won’t be enough.
That being said, I try not to second-guess a GM who has yet to make any serious errors, so let’s reserve judgment on Grigson’s second off-season in charge of the Colts for now.
Oh – Indy also gets the privilege to draft Mr. Irrelevant, the last overall draft pick – barring a trade, of course.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR. WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.