The Indianpolis Colts were the darling to the 2012 NFL Season, going from the worst record in football to 11-5 and a playoff appearance.
Andrew Luck was a big part of the turnaround as was General Manager Ryan Grigson, who was deservedly named Executive of the Year. Drafting Luck alone would have made any draft class deserve an “A,” but Grigson proceeded to hit on players such as Dwayne Allen (3rd round), T.Y. Hilton (3rd round) and Vick Ballard (5th round).
He also led an aggressive roster turnover, ridding key veterans such as Jeff Saturday, Pierre Garçon Gary Brackett and of course Peyton Manning, but also keeping some veterans like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. He then added some low-cost veterans via free agency and trades like Donnie Avery, Mike McGlynn, Darius Butler and Winston Justice.
All of these moves made it possible for the Colts to have one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history. Coming into this off-season, riding high off an 11-5 record, Grigson and the Colts were armed with $44 million in cap space. The Colts didn’t waste any time spending that money, diving head-first into the free-agent frenzy, a total 360 from the strategy they used last year.
They ended up with some mediocre talents like Gosder Cherilus, Erik Walden and Rick Jean-Francois and paid way above market value for them. They gave Cherilus, who has a spotty injury history, $34.5 million and $15 million guaranteed, while giving Walden (who was PFF’s worst outside linebacker available) $16 million and then gave $22 million to Jean-Francois, who while talented, only has three career sacks and played in just 27% of snaps last season.
The signings of Lawrence Sidbury and Donald Thomas, while not as bad, also raised some question marks. Their best signing was probably LaRon Landry (4 years, $24 million), who had a solid season for the Jets last year, but also has big-time injury concerns. In total they spent about $34 millon of cap space on these signings.
These moves all seem like a plot to make a run at the Super Bowl, but simply put the Colts aren’t on that level yet. Yes they were 11-5 last year, but look beyond the record and another picture emerges. You’ll see that the Colts played the league’s easiest schedule, were ridiculously good in close games (9-1 in games decided by 7 points or less), and were actually outscored by their opponents. In reality, the Colts were probably more along the lines of a 7-9, 8-8 team last year that happened to get lucky.
None of the players they signed are true difference makers (with the possible exception of a healthy Landry), but rather mediocre talents who are getting paid way more than they should be. Grigson earned a ton of good faith with the shrewd moves he made in his first year on the job, but it’s hard to get behind the decisions he made this offseason. Andrew Luck will always keep the Colts competitive, but at this stage it’s hard to envision the Colts coming close to replicating last year’s success.