It's 2014, two years and change after the Indianapolis Colts underwent reconstructive surgery at every level of the organization. After over a decade of GM Bill Polian and quarterback Peyton Manning running the show, the Colts were getting a face-lift.
Out with the old, in with the new.
Owner Jim Irsay brought in Ryan Grigson to lead the front office, and the operation was underway. Grigson then began the difficult task of building his own team and emerging from the shadow of Bill Polian, a future Hall of Famer.
Two years after his hiring, it's safe to say that Grigson has done just that. This Colts team is his through and through.
The roster is the easiest place to start. It's come a long way in two years, as you can see in the breakdown below (a visual example is available here). The chart contains a breakdown of how each of the opening day 53-man rosters were acquired (2014 is a projection).
|Waiver/Futures/Practice Squad (Grigson)||10||9||12|
Kyle J. Rodriguez
Clearly, Polian's influence has dwindled in recent years, so much so that every Colt but one on the 2014 opening-day roster will be on a Grigson-negotiated contract.
Five of the seven members remaining from the Polian era (WR Reggie Wayne, OLB Robert Mathis, P Pat McAfee, K Adam Vinatieri, DE Fili Moala) have signed new contracts with Indianapolis. Grigson has made a conscious decision to keep them around. Guard Joe Reitz has the option of signing a restricted free-agent tender this offseason to stay in Indianapolis, another one that Grigson chose to retain. The only player still on a Polian contract is LT Anthony Castonzo, whose contract will expire after the 2014 season.
Where have the rest of the Colts from the dreadful 2011 season gone? Most have been actively purged from the roster, while others were allowed to leave without a second thought.
Grigson had a different style from Polian, a different vision. It hasn't been anything personal that Grigson has wanted to bring in his own guys, just a different strategy in building a team. It was absolutely necessary once the decision was made to cut Manning and build around rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
As his reign has evolved, Grigson has relied more and more on his own draftees, with Luck, WR T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, RB Vick Ballard and OG Hugh Thornton having all become starters. This year, five more rookies (barring trades) will join the team and add to that total.
But the new Colts do rely heavily on free-agent signings, something that sets Grigson apart from Polian's tendencies.
Last season, 11 of the Colts' 22 positional starters were Grigson's free-agent signings, something that would have been unheard of under Polian. Of course, Grigson didn't have much of a choice on that, considering he cut or let walk most of the 2011 roster. With over $30 million in cap space in both of the past two seasons, the Colts had to spend.
Most of the Colts' free-agent signings have been defensive in focus. Of the Colts' top 10 free-agent contracts (by average salary), only Gosder Cherilus is an offensive player. That's another major separation from Polian. The Colts have spent a lot of money (and a first-round pick last season) on defensive upgrades in an attempt to build a balanced team.
That, of course, is another part of Grigson's identity. While Polian built the Colts around a dynamic passing attack and fearsome pass-rushers, Grigson has opted for a more rounded approach on both sides of the ball.
On defense, he's brought in run-stuffers (DE Ricky Jean Francois), coverage-oriented linebackers (LB D'Qwell Jackson) and various, expensive secondary members (S LaRon Landry, CB Vontae Davis). Offensively he's drafted receiving playmakers like Hilton and Allen, while also bringing in RB Trent Richardson and rookie offensive linemen Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes.
The team preaches stopping the run and running the ball, but words mean nothing without actions to back them up. The team has spent just as much time and money on improving the passing game as they have the running game, on both sides of the ball.
It truly is a "balanced" approach. There really aren't any discernible trends, outside of Grigson valuing versatility, which is a hint at balance on its own.
Along with building a balanced team, Grigson has gained a reputation for being able to close free-agent deals. Of course, there's also the skill of finding "diamonds in the rough."
Text from a rival GM yesterday: “Ryan Grigson is bringing Nicks in? No way he leaves.” Colts GM considered a closer for free agents.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 14, 2014
In style, Grigson has created his own image in Indianapolis. The franchise is fully his, with the roster, coaching staff and team values all carefully crafted by Grigson, Irsay and Chuck Pagano. Now it's time to sit back and watch the results.
No more "rebuild" talk. The team is built.
So far, it's been successful. Twenty-two regular-season wins, two playoff berths and a playoff win in two years is a heck of a run for a new general manager.
With a base of success and firm control of the roster, Grigson and the new-era Colts now have the stage set to build their legacy. Can it reach the heights of the Peyton years? That's a lofty goal, as Polian, Manning and coach Tony Dungy built a team that had one of the most incredible runs of success in league history.
Like it or not, Grigson will be measured against Polian and the previous regime as long as his tenure in Indianapolis lasts.
Grigson's team now has been completely assembled. Watching the results, no matter what they are, is going to be fascinating.