There's no debate over naming the Indianapolis Colts' biggest move in the offseason. It was the excruciating, extended “Farewell to Arm” goodbye to Peyton Manning.
Sometimes I still expect to see No.18 on the practice field and say, “I had the weirdest dream last night.”
But, no, Peyton's gone. That's reality.
So what were the Colts' best moves in light of that shakeup?
As training camp looms at the end of the month, here is what I see as the five best decisions made by the Colts in retooling their franchise for the next decade:
1. Drafting Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.
If you're going to part ways with one of the greatest quarterbacks in history while he still wants to play, you'd better have a plan. The plan is to count on Luck, uppercase, to bring luck, lowercase. There was a lot of analysis leading up to the draft over Luck and the other top quarterback, Robert Griffin III, and no one can predict with certainty which one will be the bigger star. But if you're digging deep looking for flaws in Luck, as some analysts were, then he must be pretty good.
Luck's stock was high before his final college season, it was high during his final college season and nothing he's done since has reduced it. The Colts need to get him signed – and they will – before training camp. He's a quarterback's son, who learned from a quarterback (Jim Harbaugh) and had peripheral ties to the Mannings. He played in a pro offense in college.
The subsequent decisions to use the next two draft picks on tight ends Coby Fleener (Luck's teammate at Stanford) and Dwayne Allen must be considered part of the same play. He needs the weapons. These are big targets.
2. Re-signing Reggie Wayne.
The Colts targeted Pierre Garcon (who signed with the Redskins) before revisiting their thoughts on Wayne. This is a case where fate intervened in a good way.
Wayne has insight into success (both in the passing game and winning) that is much more developed than Garcon's. He also has a maturity and approach that is better suited to working with Luck. The fact Luck has been in Miami working with Wayne is a tremendous sign. The only real downside is his age.
Wayne represents a link to the Colts' past success. He knows what it takes to demand excellence. Yes, he's getting older. But he's fit of mind and body and the guy knows how to catch a football.
3. Hiring Chuck Pagano.
If the Colts were to retool their team, create a next era of excellence, they needed a new voice at the top. Hiring Pagano as head coach brings that voice. His approach, vocal, hands-on, presents quite a contrast – at least from a distance – to former coach Jim Caldwell.
Pagano's initial positives are energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to work with strong-minded assistant coaches. He has a defensive background and an apparent in-depth knowledge of the game. His biggest negative is he's never been an NFL head coach. The demands are different. The role is different.
The good news is Pagano starts essentially from scratch. If Manning had still been here, the assertion of team leadership would have been a little trickier.
4. Signing defensive end Cory Redding.
I don't know how many sacks Redding will make, how many tackles he'll compile or other impacts he'll make on the field. I'd guess he'll have his moments.
The reason signing him was a good move is the understanding of the 3-4 defense the Colts will be implementing, and his attitude. No other new Colt brings more intensity and enthusiasm on the surface.
Redding is vocal enough to add insight into the new defense. He has enough background of success to gain the respect of Colts veterans Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. He has good rapport with Pagano. Of the newer, veteran Colts, he possesses the most apparent leadership.
5. Trading for Winston Justice.
Luck needs an offensive line to protect him, and the Colts weren't exactly stacked after the departures of veterans Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem.
Justice came relatively cheap in a trade (draft pick) with the Eagles, but he's a known quantity for Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who saw him extensively while working with the Eagles. Justice has good size (6-foot-6, 317), is 27 and has been a regular starter in the past.
Justice should slide into the right tackle spot and upgrade that position. He could also be joined by Mike McGlynn, another former Eagle who came in free agency, at right guard.
Now it could be that other new players (Donnie Avery, Cassius Vaughn, Tom Zbikowski) eventually end up as a Top 5 move. And some of the above may not fulfill their promise.
I will say this: Luck has to be the real deal. Otherwise, the Colts' offseason moves could be the main topic of conversation for years to come.