The Indianapolis Colts have a lot of work to do.
How does a team rebound from a two-win season? How does a team move on from a Hall of Fame quarterback like Peyton Manning? How does a team rebuild after years of missing on draft picks like Jerry Hughes, Donald Brown, Tony Ugoh and so many others.
Jim Irsay hasn't offered me a job since firing Bill and Chris Polian, but I've (jokingly) offered my services. While the group being interviewed for the general manager position isn't complete, it is currently uninspiring. Anytime the general manager of the Montreal Alouettes is seriously being considered, it might be time to reconsider your search.
So, humbly, I submit my rebuilding plan for the Indianapolis Colts. With a little luck, I can be the next in the line of Ernie Accorsi, Marty Hurney (and, yes, Matt Millen) of media guys who can make the transition to the NFL.
And hey, even if Irsay doesn't hire me, maybe this can serve as a blueprint for the guy who does get it.
Draft Andrew Luck and Don't Look Back
If it's going to take a little luck to succeed as Indianapolis Colts GM, they might as well start by drafting Andrew Luck, the number one overall prospect in this year's draft.
While many different scenarios are being bandied about, a number of draft maxims are at play with this pick.
First: If you don't have a franchise quarterback, draft one. Second: never pass up the best player available at a position of need to chase lesser prospects at positions of greater need. Finally, don't draft for next year, draft for year three.
The Colts should select Luck for all of the above reasons. The Colts don't have a franchise quarterback. They have a very good quarterback in Peyton Manning, but don't know whether or not he will be healthy in 2012 or beyond.
Even if Manning is healthy, who knows how much time he will have left? Quarterback is the most important position in the game; get the best one possible.
Luck is the best player in the draft. Sure, the Colts could use an offensive tackle like Matt Kalil or a wide receiver like Justin Blackmon, but they also need a quarterback!
Why take a lesser player when you will need the better one?
Most importantly, it would be extremely shortsighted for a new general manager with a new coaching staff to draft a player solely for better immediate impact. Matt Kalil and Justin Blackmon (or a player acquired by trading down) could both step into the Colts starting lineup and help Peyton Manning win some games, but three years from now, a franchise quarterback might not be available.
Drafting Andrew Luck is the only logical choice.
Hire a Defensive-Minded Head Coach
Offensive coaches are all the rage in the NFL: Mike McCarthy, Sean Peyton, Tom Coughlin, et cetera. Bill Belichick, although he's been a defensive coordinator, started as a wide receivers coach and still has a hand in the offense.
In all, seven of the last 10 Super Bowls have been won by offensive-minded coaches.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, after firing a pretty bad defense-centric head coach in Jack Del Rio, have bitten on this trend and have interviewed (or requested interviews) with a host of offensive coordinators around the league.
Take a good look at the AFC South. If Jacksonville hires a offensive-minded coach, he will join Mike Munchak (originally an offensive line coach) and Gary Kubiak (an offensive guru). Perhaps the pool of offensive coaches is getting shallow—even within the Colts' own division.
Take a look at the Colts roster. Who is running that offense? No coordinator, that's for sure. When Peyton Manning is healthy, he's the only voice that offense is listening to. Andrew Luck is already having a similar effect at the collegiate level.
A number of top defensive minds could be available if the Colts decide to go this route.
Mike Zimmer (DC Cincinnati Bengals) has everything a team could want in a coach—he's a good teacher, a great motivator and is well-connected enough to put a fine staff together. Chuck Pagano (DC Baltimore Ravens) has a long history of NFL and collegiate success and was the man behind the third-best defense in 2011. Mel Tucker (Interim HC Jacksonville Jaguars) went 2-3 as Jaguars head man and is a rising star in the coaching community.
A less likely, but tantalizing prospect is Wade Phillips (DC Houston Texans). Not only has Phillips been extremely successful in putting the Texans defense together, but he has an over .500 record as an NFL head coach. With his age and playoff failings, maybe Phillips isn't the guy to bring the Colts back to a Super Bowl, but he might be the guy to lay that foundation.
Plus, hiring him would take the Texans down a peg—two birds with one stone.
Grab a Top Offensive Assistant With Head Coaching Experience
Assuming one of those defensive guys is in place (let's assume Zimmer or Tucker), we can also assume that he'll be able to compile a pretty decent defensive staff around him from his friends and former acquaintances around the coaching community.
That's a pretty solid assumption. When Jim Schwartz took over the Detroit Lions, he reached to his past for a defensive coordinator and brought on former head coach in Scott Linehan. Mike Shanahan, an offensive coordinator, did the opposite with the Washington Redskins.
Dennis Erickson was last seen failing at Arizona State. However, before that he's been a success in the NFL and many different stops at the college level. A brilliant offensive mind, the Colts could do far worse.
Other former head coach re-treads would include Marty Schottenheimer, Todd Haley, Mike Sherman, Jim Zorn, Dennis Green and Brad Childress.
All of those coaches have serious pockmarks as head coaches in the NFL, but got to the point they could fail as head coaches because of their success as offensive game-planners.
Honestly, my top choice would be either Erickson or Schottenheimer. With a little more of that luck, those two could lure one of the other coaches from their coaching tree into a top assistant role (perhaps with an associate head coach title).
A combination of Erickson and Zorn or Schottenheimer and Haley would put the Colts offense and the maturation of Andrew Luck in very good hands.
Maximize the Offensive Firepower
With a quarterback and top coaches in place, it's time to turn our eyes toward free agency and the draft. Without getting too in depth on exactly which players might be available for cap space once the Colts have been thoroughly gutted, let's agree on one general NFL maxim:
Offense wins championships.
Sure the Colts defense sucks. In 2011, it was the 25th-ranked defense. That isn't very good. But joining them in the bottom 20 are six playoff teams.
Of course, defense can win championships as well, as the top four defensive teams are playoff teams as well. Since either can win, which route is best for the Colts to win with right away?
After placing a tremendous emphasis on the defensive side of the coaching staff, it stands to reason that some of the young players—Hughes, Pat Angerer, Fili Moala, Jacob Lacey—might learn a thing or two.
Also, a bigger reason the Colts should focus on fixing the offense is that the offense might not need nearly as much work as its 30th rank in 2011 might indicate. In 2010, the Colts ranked fourth in total offense and the only real difference in 2011 was who was under center. Also, the Colts have nice talent at receiver and tight end and recent high draft picks at running back and offensive tackle.
After drafting Andrew Luck, the Colts should look to get him has much support as possible so that he can step into a ready-made offense once Manning, Clark and Wayne retire.
A top right tackle prospect like Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State) or Brandon Washington (Miami) could be available at the beginning of the first round. A nice wide receiver prospect like Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers) or Nick Toon (Wisconsin) could take over for Wayne down the road. Drafting players for roles later on can pay dividends. LaMichael James (Oregon) as a scat back or Ladarius Green (La-Lafayette) as a pass-catching tight end could make a ton of sense both now and down the road.
In free agency, it would be foolhardy to spend a ton of money in year one, but it won't be easy to lure players to a rebuilding franchise. Young players like Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch or Marques Colston could come in and become a franchise cornerstone for the new-look Colts. Complementary players like Stevie Johnson or Michael Bush could come to Indianapolis to look for bigger roles.
Of course, this has (mostly) ignored the offensive line and defense. Don't fear, the Colts should consistently look to upgrade their interior offensive line (a good place for guard and center prospects) and defense during the middle and later rounds of the draft and with value free agents and training camp cuts.
It isn't possible to built a top offense and defense at the same time in short order. In this scenario, the offense can go back to the dominant championship-winning ways while the defense grows to respectability.
So, What Could This Team Look Like?
* indicates rookie; FA indicates suggest free-agency addition.
Offense: QB (Manning/Luck*); RB (Addai/FA); WR (Wayne, Garcon, Collie/FA); TE (Clark); OL (Castonzo, Zeitler*, Saturday, Diem, Washington*)
An offense that looks mostly different in 2012 than it did in 2010 should make a lot of Colts fans double-take, but it shouldn't be that surprising. We're building for the future as much as right now. Adding a RT (Brandon Washington, Miami) in the second round and a RG (Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin) in the third will pay dividends.
Defense: DL (Mathis, Moala, Johnson/FA, Freeney); LB (Connor, Angerer, Wheeler/FA); DB (Lacey, Powers, Bullitt/FA, Bethea)
Again, the defense can't radically change overnight if the Colts are stabilizing the offense long term. Hopefully a few free agents can be lured over on the cheap to replace some of the fringe starters or provide depth.
Coaching Staff: HC (Mike Zimmer); DC (Paul Guenther); OC (Dennis Erickson); Associate HC/QB (Jim Zorn)
Zimmer brings over his long-time defensive planning aid from Cincinnati. Erickson brings in Haley to help the offense fire on all cylinders and eventually take over the reins.
Way-too-early Wins Prediction: 9-7
Don't scoff. If all those players above stay healthy, this could easily be a playoff team with the re-addition of Manning alone. However, as this team ages, health will not be a foregone conclusion.
Yet, with this rebuilding plan, not only can the Colts hedge their bets on the health of Peyton Manning in 2012, but they can also continue to build for the future on the backs of a roster that is getting younger and more talented, as well as a coaching staff that is far more equipped than the current group.
Now, the only left to do is to get Jim Irsay to actually implement this plan and then get him the heck off of Twitter.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.
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