Hello, Colts fans. It’s good to be back again. The boys closed out an 8-8 season with a comeback win against Jacksonville that played out like much of their season did – a lot of frustration (the five 3-and-outs by the offense to start the game were the most by a Colts team since 1993) mixed with some excitement (Robert Mathis!). Andrew Luck has engineered many game winning drives in his career, but Sunday’s may have been the easiest. It’s almost like Jacksonville said “Hmm, maybe it would serve us better if we went ahead and lost this game.”
I wasn’t sure we’d even have enough excitement to generate another mailbag, but you people delivered. Did you ever.
Let’s see what’s on your minds…
(Author’s note: Much of this was written prior to reports surfacing that Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson would be retained for 2017. I was left with leaving it as is or with not answering some questions, and there’s no reason to leave questions out.)
Q: What are the chances that they sign Peyton to be the offensive coordinator? That would be awesome – Bill via Facebook
Slim and none. I’d be shocked if Peyton ever coaches anywhere, no matter the capacity. Alright, maybe 10 years from now he’ll volunteer as an assistant for his son’s high school team. Otherwise, I don’t see it. I can’t imagine him trying to run an offense under a head coach he may clash with. I can’t imagine his reaction when he finds out the team’s QB or its WR’s don’t want to work as hard as he did as a player, yet there’s nothing he can really do about it.
I can’t say with any certainty what Peyton is thinking in regards to his future, but I believe he’s probably better suited for another role in the NFL, like…
Q: Is Peyton Manning going to take the GM job? – John via Facebook
Rumors of the team being interested in bringing Peyton back in a front office role have been pretty strong. I believe them. This isn’t like last year’s speculation. There’s way too much smoke, and this time I’m convinced there’s fire with it. Several outlets have reported Jim Irsay as being “really unhappy” for several weeks with how the team performed. There’s also the matter of the Super Bowl XLI reunion the Colts put together the weekend of November 18-20. That weekend was – at least publicly – Peyton’s real return to Indy. In other words, he was there all weekend, giving Irsay ample time to begin a sales pitch.
I believe these dealings have resulted in a job offer. On the surface, it sounds great. The return of Peyton! I’ve even bought into it some myself. I think ultimately he’d do well as a decision maker in a front office, but is he ready for it now? Another thing to consider: He’s already been “fired” by Irsay once. If he comes into the front office and fails, then what? Irsay would have to fire him again. I’m not sure either of them want to face that prospect.
I do think Peyton will return to Indy…eventually. I’m not convinced it will be soon. Honestly, no matter what organization he ends up with, I don’t believe Peyton will come aboard for anything less than what John Elway has in Denver.
Stay tuned. By the time this article is posted, he could very well have signed a contract.
Q: Where do all the wood choppers go when there’s no more wood to chop? – Ryan via Twitter
At first I wasn’t sure what my answer to this question would be, and then I remembered this:
I have no clue where Mr. Albright came up with his scoop here, nor do I really care, but it helps me answer this question.
After five years, I’ve finally figured it out. The reason Pagano has had issues is there’s no more wood here to chop. Think about it: When the area we now call Indiana was settled, it was all forest. There was nothing but wood to chop, even in the flat, central part of the state. Now, nearly all of the wood has been chopped, and there’s nothing really left here for Chuck. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to figure out his problem.
To go back to Mr. Albright, his scoop seems to offer a solution to Pagano’s woes. Think about it: We’re talking the Rocky Mountains here. There are trees everywhere. It’s a match made in heaven.
All along it was right there in front of us, people.
Q: If ownership makes a coaching change will the entire staff be replaced? – Melvin via Twitter
That’s typically how it works. Welcome to the life of an NFL coach. You may remember former Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Manusky’s career is typical of many NFL assistants. He’s just completed his 15th season as a coach, and has done so with 5 different organizations.
If there’s one assistant I would retain if the Colts hired me as head coach, it would be Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon. He’s done a tremendous job. If there was another assistant I would retain, it would probably be QB coach Brian Schottenheimer. I feel like he did a good job working out some of the kinks – remember, he’s not the offensive coordinator – in Andrew Luck’s game.
Q: Do you think a new coach and/or GM can really turn it around by next season? I’m getting tired of being mediocre! – Christy via Facebook
I’m glad you asked. Lost in all of the clamoring for change is it doesn’t guarantee anything will be better. Some may point to the 2012 season as an example of a quick rebuild, but a 2 win season in 2011 made 2012 look a lot better than it really was. Yes, it was a playoff season, and it was sorely needed, but the 2012 team wasn’t a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They didn’t win the division, they gave up more points than they scored – even this year’s bunch can’t claim that – and nine of their eleven wins came by 7 points or less. Compared to the last two seasons though, 2012 is looking better and better each day. That’s how far they’ve fallen.
To get back on track, they’re going to need a similar rebuild. It’s easy to say things like “Well, they need to draft so and so” and “It’s important that the new head coach understands strategy” but that’s not really what I’m looking for. I mean, wanting these types of things is a given, right? If they make a change, what I want to see is a vision, a blueprint. A clearly defined direction. The Colts basically doomed themselves in 2012. Yes, Ryan Grigson made some nice personnel decisions that helped get the club back on its feet again. He also didn’t hire Chuck Pagano. Right away they put both into a potential no win situation, and that’s what it’s turned out to be. There needs to be a shared vision between all parties, no matter who they may turn out to be.
Q: Who do you see stepping into Mathis’ place? – Kimberly Anne via Facebook
Right now? No one, technically. According to the current roster on the team’s website, there are seven players listed – eight actually, because they haven’t removed Mathis yet – at the OLB position: Akeem Ayers, Chris Carter, Trent Cole, Deiontrez Mount (uh, who is that?), Erik Walden, Curt Maggitt, and Lavar Edwards. Maggitt and Edwards are the only two who are signed for next season. I expect them both to be back, even if nothing more than for depth. I think the team likes Ayers as well, and will try to keep him. There’s a chance Mathis will be with the team in some capacity next season, and he’s a big fan of Ayers.
Walden was their best pass rusher in 2016, but he scares the hell out of me. I’m sorry, but a guy who had his best season – almost doubling his single season best for sacks – at age 31 in a contract year should scare the hell out of everyone – especially when he’s not that good at doing anything else. I think you make an attempt to bring him back, but at no more than a 2 year deal. Of course, this means the team will soon be announcing Walden’s new 4 year, $42 million contract. Sigh.
Q: What, if any, major roster moves may we see in the off-season? Any trades? – Amy Louise via Facebook
I’m not sure exactly what qualifies as a major roster move. I’m sure the Patriots will yet again make all of the right moves in the draft and in free agency. Oh wait, you’re talking about the Colts.
Honestly, I’m not sure. They will have some free agency money to spend. Right now they have no fewer than 12 players set to become free agents, and they can let at least half of them walk with little worry. There are quite a few players on other teams currently set to become free agents who could help fill some holes for the Colts, but I don’t see the team attempting to make a big splash. They tried that route before, and mostly failed. Maybe I just don’t have any faith in Ryan Grigson to get it right. I don’t know.
I certainly doubt there will be any major trade. They have no one to trade. If you see a deal, it will probably be one of those “here’s a 6th round pick for some defensive lineman we’ve never heard of before” things.
I have several other personnel-related questions. I’ll try to give them their due…
Q: How is Pagano a defensive expert and we suck so bad at it?? What is the greatest need there? – Christy via Facebook
I’ve seen the Pagano question asked on social media before, and it always makes me smile. In a perfect world, an assistant coach with a good track record – and that is certainly the case with Pagano – will bring the same to his head coaching job. It’s not a perfect world. NFL history is littered with guys who caught the fire as assistants, then got a head coaching job and failed. It happens. In looking at his tenure in Indy, yes, by this point the defense should be a lot better than it is. As head coach, this ultimately falls on his shoulders, but I think it’s fair to point a finger at Ryan Grigson as well. After five seasons, the Colts have just six – SIX! – defensive players on the current roster who were actually drafted by the team. They are: Henry Anderson, Clayton Geathers, TJ Green, Antonio Morrison, David Parry, and Hassan Ridgeway. Read those names again and think about them. Notice anything? That’s right, none of them have been on the team more than two seasons. This means the team went three straight drafts – THREE! – without selecting a defensive player who is still on the team. To be fair, the 2012 draft was all about Luck and finding him some weapons (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, TY Hilton, Vick Ballard, and LaVon Brazil were all picked in 2012). This still leaves two seasons worth of whiffing. What they tried to do was mostly draft an offense for Luck, and build a defense through signing veteran free agents – most of whom could not possibly have had a huge amount of interest from other teams – and undrafted guys. The problem is too many of these signings didn’t work, yet they didn’t abandon their approach. You throw it all together and you have a defense that is still a mess after five seasons. Is it Pagano’s fault? Sure, but I’m not convinced Buddy Ryan in his prime could have done much better with the players they’ve trotted out there.
The biggest need they have to address is the pass rush. I don’t care if this means booking a shuttle to Mars (come to think of it, this isn’t a bad idea Chuck and Ryan. Enjoy your stay). The NFL is a QB’s league. You’re doomed if you don’t have a good one, and you’re doomed if you can’t stop one. DB’s can only do so much. They can only cover receivers for so long before someone is going to get open. The more time you give a QB to throw, the easier you make it, and then one day you look up and realize Ben Roethlisberger could set the NFL single game passing yards record against you if he decides to throw it a couple more times. Bring a solid pass rush and you swing everything in your favor.
Q: Biggest needs in the draft and who is our potential first pick? – Nick via Facebook
Pass rushers. Again, I don’t care if you have to go to Mars to get them, get them. They are in dire need of some speed and/or quickness on the defense. You saw other teams exploit this lack of speed time and time again in 2016. I’ll delve deeper into the “biggest needs” part in a bit, as I have a similar question.
Without question, the player I’d like them most to draft is Derek Barnett from Tennessee. Although Barnett is a bit bigger, for a point of reference, of the current Colts his body type most resembles Erik Walden’s. I’ve said in this space before that I don’t watch college football looking for guys the Colts could use, but I made a conscious decision to watch Tennessee’s bowl game against Nebraska just for Barnett. Forget the obvious size, speed and quickness that make him the perfect DE/OLB/Edge fit for the Colts, this kid also understands the game. He blew up so many of Nebraska’s plays you’d have thought he was in the huddle when they called them. According to College Football Reference, his stats against Nebraska were: 6 tackles (1 for loss), 1 sack, and 2 passes defensed. That’s a pretty good line for a guy always lining up on the outside, sometimes in the traditional defensive end spot.
Bring him to me, now. Bring his family too. They can all stay at my house until he signs his contract and can buy something in Indy. If he’s available when the Colts pick and Grigson or whomever the GM is selects someone else, you might want to check to see if I’m alright.
Q: Do you think Turbin is our #1 back next year? Will Gore be back? Also, what position do we draft first? Has to be O line help, yes? – Christy via Facebook
(Author’s note: This is the first question answered after the reports of Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson staying for 2017 surfaced. I also hit my head against the desk repeatedly after hearing of said reports)
I’ll take the last parts of this first. In case you – meaning everyone, not you specifically, Christy – missed it, priority #1 is addressing the pass rush. They need to add speed throughout the defense, but definitely on the edges. Sadly, this is far from the only need. The previous failures in making good personnel decisions have left the team with a lot of holes to fill. Outside of the QB position and the specialists (Vinatieri/McAfee/Overton), you can make a case for a need at nearly every position. It’s so big I’m not sure I can rank it, but I’ll try: 1) OLB/DE/Edge/Whatever you call it. Pass rushers. Plural. 2) Speed on defense. This kind of goes along with #1, but that’s how big of a need it is, especially at the LB positions and in the secondary. 3) RB. The depth is thin. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, anyone? 4) OL. I think they’ll go forward with a unit of Castonzo-Mewhort-Kelly-Haeg-Clark next season, with Good, Reitz and Harrison as primary reserves, but I do believe they’ll try to add another player here. This could be a spot they address with a free agent. 5) Safety. Mike Adams and Darius Butler are set to be free agents, Clayton Geathers (please let him stay healthy for an entire season) is someone they seem to be viewing as more of a linebacker, and TJ Green is…LOL, whatever. 6) Depth, anywhere. This seems like a silly answer, but in 2016 the margin of victory in NFL games was around 9 points, the lowest since 1932. 1932. In a sport where injuries are the rule rather than the exception, it seems obvious that teams with better depth are going to win more games. The 2016 Colts were exposed very early on for their lack of depth.
Robert Turbin had a terrific 2016. He’s also due to become a free agent, and will have suitors. I’ll focus more on him in my next question and concentrate on Gore here instead. He has one year left on his contract, and is set to be paid $3.5 million. To average people like us, this seems like a huge amount, but in the grand scheme of the salary cap it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s because of this I see him returning, especially since Pagano and Grigson are apparently both back as well. He certainly isn’t going to retire. Frank Gore is going to be one of those guys who will retire only when everyone refuses to give him a job. I can picture this in 2018: Jim Nantz: “The give is to Gore…he’s got the first down. And with that first down, New England will run out the clock and clinch home field advantage for yet another (typical Nantz emphasis on “another”) season. How about Frank Gore?” Phil Simms: “That’s right, Jim. We talked to Bill Belichick on Friday and he couldn’t say enough about Frank Gore and the role he’s embraced here. His veteran leadership. And now he’s in the playoffs for the first time in 5 years.” Tell me you can’t totally picture that exchange happening. I ultimately believe Gore will be back and that he can give them one more decent season. They’re so thin at the position they really have no choice…unless they draft Dalvin Cook.
Q: We all saw what Turbin said about this team. What other key players do you see returning? – Jodi via Facebook
I wish I could link directly to what Turbin said following the Oakland game, but it included a couple of f-bombs. Sans f-bombs, his message was basically “I want to be back here next year and help this team win a championship.” When they signed him this summer, I wasn’t overwhelmed. Here was a guy who was now on his 4th team. Even the Cleveland Browns couldn’t find a spot for him. He proved his worth time and time again this season, and very early on became one of my favorites.
Turbin tops the list of guys you have to bring back. This shouldn’t even be a debate. Here’s how I’d rank the other unrestricted free agents in order of who I’d like to see back: 2) Jack Doyle. One would think Doyle would be an easy one to keep given that he’s from Indy. 3) Darius Butler. It’s possible it may come down to bringing back Butler vs. bringing back Mike Adams, and if so, my vote is for Butler. He made the transition to safety well, and his ability to play corner if needed makes him more versatile than Adams, plus he’s 5 years younger. I don’t object to Adams coming back on a small deal, but not as an every down player. 4) Erik Walden. I’ve went on about how the team needs to get a pass rush, and yet here I’m ranking their best pass rusher fairly low on this list. I can’t help it. A contract season at age 31 is scary. They probably will need him back next season, but it has to be at a cap friendly price. Has to be. Don’t hasten the sinking of the ship. Ryan Grigson. 5) Akeem Ayers. I think he has good potential, and he won’t cost them much. The team also has some restricted free agents: Jon Harrison, Zach Kerr, Josh McNary, and Erik Swoope. My guess is all will return next season. McNary. Ugh. Everyone else who played a significant role in 2016 should also return. I’m not seeing any surprise cuts.
Q: Is there a god and why does he hate Colts fans so much? – Ryan via Twitter
It’s finally come to me: There is no God, there is only Zuul. And get this: Zuul has spent a lot of time hanging out in the New York City area. While his ugly appearances and anger streak suggest a Jets fan, Zuul roots for the Giants. How else can one explain the two Super Bowl victories over the Patriots? Before Peyton Manning made a deal with the devil, Zuul had all but ensured that Eli would finish with more Super Bowl wins, including one in Peyton’s former stomping grounds. With the Giants looking like a team of destiny again, it’s going to be a difficult task, but convert Zuul to the Colts side and the victories will start piling up.
Jim Irsay, are you listening?
Q: What is your opinion of season ticket holders saying they won’t renew for next season? Will hitting them in the pocketbooks make Irsay see we’re fed up/disappointed? – Jodi via Facebook
I’ve seen more bickering among Colts fans the past couple of weeks than I ever recall seeing before. So many people out there trying to tell other people what does and doesn’t make one a good fan. Other than the idiots out there who seek out Irsay or players for the sole purpose of telling them to “f off” and other than the disturbed idiots who pray for Pagano to get cancer again (yes, I have read such things on more than one occasion. Truly sickening), there’s no right way or wrong way to be a fan. There’s certainly no manual out there. Yes, I disagree with the direction this organization seems headed. Yes, I’ve been critical of players when they totally goof up, including Andrew Luck. I also watched every play of the meaningless game against Jacksonville and would’ve felt totally lost if I hadn’t. I’m not going anywhere.
I typed a big spiel about my own experiences as a season ticket holder, then deleted it. I will share this part, though. When I chose not to renew – this has been several years ago – I contacted my ticket rep out of courtesy, letting her know my decision so she could go ahead and release my seats. She was very polite, and there was no pleading or begging or sales pitch. I figured this was the end of it, but the following Monday I received a phone call from the head of the team’s ticket office. He mostly called to confirm my decision not to renew after 3 years, but he also wanted to know why, and he listened. Once more there was no pleading, no begging, no sales pitch. This came during a time when there was no shortage of people looking for season tickets – Peyton Manning was still healthy – so the fact that this guy called me personally says a lot. Yes, I’m certain he called many others as well, but it still showed the team cared about me even though I lived 3 hours away and could easily be replaced by someone else who wanted tickets.
If there’s a point to the above, it is yes, the team does care when ticket holders don’t renew, and it hurts them financially (more so now than when I didn’t renew, because the waiting list isn’t very long at all). I’m not sure exactly how the Colts revenue stream shakes out, but having those season ticket commitments is a huge part of it. If enough people decide not to renew, it will definitely not go unnoticed. It’s also the easiest way to get Jim Irsay’s attention.
I won’t tell people not to renew, but won’t blame anyone who decides to go that route. Season tickets aren’t cheap. They’re a luxury, and if there are people out there who wish to no longer pay for this luxury because they don’t agree with what the team is doing, more power to them.
Q: Who should we root for this postseason? (Easy question since the answer is whoever is playing against the Patriots) – Nick via Facebook
Let’s start by listing who NOT to root for. All of these teams need to lose to truly make America great again: 1) Patriots 2) Texans 3) Packers 4) Seahawks 5) Cowboys. Actually, it’s really the Patriots at 1A, then a 4 way tie for 1B.
Best case Super Bowl scenario: Chiefs vs. Falcons. I could also live with the Giants instead of Atlanta (damn you, Zuul).
Absolute worst case, I’m not sure I’ll even watch, forget about Russia this is the true demise of America, Super Bowl scenario: Patriots vs. Dallas. I should not have to explain this.
Speaking of the Falcons, Matt Ryan should win MVP. Then he can win it again following the Super Bowl.
Q: What can you tell me that’s good? – Stan via Facebook
The Texans have the hottest cheerleaders in the NFL and they’re playing a home game today.
According to their analytic stats, Pro Football Outsiders have the Texans ranked as the 29th best team in the NFL this season (Colts were 24th).
Entering Saturday’s game against the Knicks, the Pacers have a season high 4 game win streak.
I badly wanted the Colts to draft Landon Collins in 2015. Badly. Myself and many others. He was available when they picked, but they chose Phillip Dorsett instead. This week Landon Collins was named first team All Pro.
Did I mention the Texans cheerleaders?
TJ Green might grow up during the off season.
If Robert Turbin leaves, there’s a good chance the two of us could get signed to back up Frank Gore.
Jack Doyle. You said “good” so I took it a step further and went with “great” here.
Thanks for the questions.
See you soon, Colts fans.