The Colts could actually be pretty good. As long as Andrew Luck’s shoulder’s fine and they can keep him upright in the future.
Of course, those are two pretty big questions, and neither of them are close to certainties at the moment.
At last news, Luck still wasn’t throwing after having surgery on his very valuable right shoulder. We’re sufficiently far away from the start of the regular season that this could easily be a lot of worry about nothing. But when an entire franchise is riding on that surgical reconstruction, it’s also not the kind of thing to minimize.
Beyond that, they pushed through years of awkwardness-if-not-dysfunction by firing General Manager Ryan Grigson and keeping coach Chuck Pagano. He and new G.M. Chris Ballard won’t be tied at the hip, which could create future tension.
Ballard realized the defense he inherited was a bad one, and bought in bulk to help shore it up. He signed a bunch of solid, competent players such as Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard and John Simon who lend ballast to a side of the ball that needed it most.
It will take some time to stabilize things completely, but as long as Luck’s able to play, they’re going to contend in the AFC South.
Biggest positive change: It’s unseemly to kick a man when he’s down, but he’s also already down there next to your foot so it seems like a waste not to sometimes.
Put simply, Grigson squandered the single-most valuable commodity a G.M. could be gifted with: A good quarterback on a cheap rookie contract.
Instead of investing the savings wisely (the way the Seahawks did and others have), Grigson bought a bunch of non-contributors and wasted the window in which Luck was good and cheap. Now that he’s good and expensive, the job is going to be harder for Ballard to put the right parts around his quarterback.
Biggest negative change: They still haven’t invested in protecting Luck the way you think they would after he took 41 sacks last year. Former G.M. Bill Polian knew he was building an unbalanced team when he had Peyton Manning, but he did it because he knew Manning was his top asset and should be protected. The Colts have brought back largely the same line as last year, and that line wasn’t good enough then.
Coaching thermometer: Pagano might have another year or two after the scapegoating of Grigson (not that he did it), but he’s on at least a steady simmer if not a low boil. He and Ballard have different agendas, and lack familiarity. While they might have similar goals, Ballard’s there for the long-term fix and will obviously have more time to do it.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . We’d say Pagano, but we’re afraid he’d want to keep chopping wood and we’d be there all night. Frank Gore’s one of the more underrated backs of recent memory, and his workmanlike approach to his craft makes him one of the most respected by his peers. He’s also had ringside seats for some real weirdness in his career in San Francisco and now Indianapolis, which would make his perspective on looking for stability an interesting one.
How they can prove us wrong: If 2016 first-rounder Ryan Kelly turns into Luck’s Jeff Saturday, it would begin to stabilize the line and maybe they all get better. Otherwise, a lot of guys upfront are going to have to play beyond their level for this thing to stay on track. Again, it’s the AFC South so the bar’s not the highest. But the Titans have made big strides of late, and the Texans are always close, and one day the Jaguars might deliver, so there’s pressure on the Colts not to fall farther behind.