Colts owner Jim Irsay has his work cut out for him as the offseason arrives. His team went backward this year. They stumbled backward, actually, tripped over their own feet, hit their heads and woke up saying, “Where are we?”
How bad is it? They’re every bit as good as the Jacksonville Jaguars, who aren’t very good at all.
The Colts came back to beat Jacksonville 24-20 on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium to finish 8-8 in a miserable, underachieving embarrassment of a season. It’s the second-straight year of 8-8 and no playoff berth.
“I don’t think it’s stuck in neutral,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. “I think it’s moving forward.”
Luck’s an optimist, which is good to have in a quarterback.
As Monday arrives, it’s time for the realists, and it’s up to Irsay to figure out how to fix things.
Many expect a change in the coaching staff and the front office. Rumors are flying about Peyton Manning returning as team president or Lord of All Football or something that allows him to fix what’s broken with one magical “Omaha!” audible. How accurate those rumors are will be revealed as soon as Monday afternoon. Manning’s return in any capacity would produce a feel-good vibe that has been missing since the Colts were flattened by the New England Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship game.
It’s possible Irsay had his mind made up about changes to come before the Colts’ final game. He was wishy-washy last season before deciding to give coach Chuck Pagano a four-year contract extension and pair it with Ryan Grigson’s deal as general manager. Irsay would have to eat some money if he parts ways with Pagano and Grigson, and take a jolt to his pride. But having former Colts president Bill Polian in the stadium Sunday, accompanied by a video featuring Manning, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, etc., had to elicit some wistfulness for the good old days.
Pagano declined to address whether he feels any uncertainty about his status, saying “Happy New Year” to a direct question about it. He then left the postgame news conference ignoring a reporter’s follow-up question.
“We didn’t achieve our No. 1 goal, we know that,” Pagano said earlier in his address to the media.
Irsay would take a monetary hit to part ways with Pagano and/or Grigson with time left on their deals. While the owner can be criticized for many things, being cheap isn’t among them. He has rewarded players many times with big contracts and has paid his coaches commensurate with their accomplishments.
If he does part ways with Pagano and/or Grigson, he’ll spend the necessary money on their replacements. Fans would love to have Manning at the helm of personnel, if only for nostalgia’s sake. Who knows? Maybe it would be a good hire. Maybe Manning has the touch John Elway has shown with the Broncos. I think it’s possible, given Manning’s love of the game, love of studying the game and his football instincts.
Manning presumably would be able to lean on new Colts Ring of Honor inductee Polian if he assumed a front-office role. They remain friends. Polian said Sunday he wouldn’t rule out a theoretical consultant’s role with an NFL team. It wasn’t a specific question about the Colts that prompted Polian’s response, but he was standing in the Lucas Oil Stadium press box when he said it.
Pagano called this season a “hell of a roller coaster ride,” and the final game reflected that. The Colts looked awful the first half, but looked much better the second half. Mathis, in his final game, recorded a sack/strip and gave the football to his wife and kids. It was a fitting and touching farewell to a great player. Frank Gore reached 1,000 yards rushing on the season, something no one his age (33) had done since 1984.
After a weird blocked punt led to a Jacksonville field goal, Luck directed the final 75-yard game-winning drive in 84 seconds, hitting Jack Doyle for the score. The Colts celebrated with gusto rarely seen this season, although Luck acknowledged it was partly the release of frustration.
Afterward, the players largely steered clear of the coaching questions. Tight end Dwayne Allen argued in favor of keeping Pagano and Grigson, saying continuity leads to success and that he believes they can lead the Colts to great heights. Allen’s loyalty shows through, but players aren’t in the best position to take the opposite side, even if they believe it.
Irsay went into last season uncertain about what he was going to do with his coach and, to a lesser extent, with his general manager. What has changed in a year’s time, other than the younger players getting a year older?
The Colts have been painful and puzzling to watch this season. Changes are necessary if they don’t want to remain 8-8. The question is how drastic the changes will be.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.