Regressing Colts must solve several problems in offseason
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts played catch-up all season. Now they’ll be doing it for a few more months.
After going 8-8, sliding down another peg in the AFC South and missing the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in almost two decades, the Colts must figure out what went wrong, how to fix it and how they can get back to the playoffs.
The transformation will start with an attitude adjustment.
“I think we just have to hold ourselves to an extremely high standard, and we have to every day devote ourselves to hitting that goal,” said kicker Adam Vinatieri, who owns four Super Bowl rings. “It’s easy to get complacent if you’re not striving to get better every single day.”
But the Colts have been regressing.
After starting his coaching tenure with three straight 11-5 records and three straight playoff appearances, Chuck Pagano has gone 8-8 each of the last two seasons. Indy was eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the 2015 season and with one game left in 2016.
“No one in this locker room ever accepts losing as the norm or as OK,” quarterback Andrew Luck said. “That’s absolutely not the fact here, nor will it ever be with the Irsay family running this organization. I know that for a fact.”
So what needs to change?
The immediate focus in Indy has been on the fates of Pagano, who was scheduled to meet with team owner Jim Irsay on Monday, and general manager Ryan Grigson. Antsy fans are clamoring for either or both to be fired.
Pagano and Grigson are under contract through the 2019 season and there has been no word, so far, from Irsay.
Clearly, things have not worked out the way Irsay envisioned.
Pagano was hired to fix the defense, which has been ranked 20th or lower four times in five years, including 30th this season.
And with Luck relatively healthy in 2016, many figured Indy would recapture the division crown. Instead, the Colts lost their first two games, never got above .500 and blew a chance to take control of the AFC South race with a second straight December loss at home to Houston.
“I take full responsibility for all of this stuff,” Pagano said. “I think we’ve got to be better. Have to be better.”
And with about $60 million expected to be available in free agency, they need to spend wisely.
Here are some things to watch during the offseason:
HELPING LUCK: Luck had a career-high completion percentage (63.5 percent) and threw only one more interception (13) in 15 starts than he did in seven games in 2015. He had the league champion in yards receiving (T.Y. Hilton) and finally worked with a 1,000-yard rusher (Frank Gore). Yet the Colts still needed a season-ending win just to avoid a losing season. Obviously, the Colts need to spend the bulk of their money — and draft picks — on defense. But they also need to put more pieces around Luck.
NEED FOR SPEED: Four outside linebackers could become unrestricted free agents — Erik Walden, Trent Cole, Akeem Ayers and Chris Carter — and 35-year-old Robert Mathis is retiring. Walden led the team with 11 sacks and at age 31 could be too expensive to re-sign. Mathis was second with five. The rest of the team had 17. So finding a young, dominant pass rusher must be a top priority.
LINE DANCE: While the Colts allowed 44 sacks this season, there were promising signs from their young offensive line in November and December. Center Ryan Kelly looks like a long-term anchor and two other rookies, swingman Joe Haeg and tackle Le’Raven Clark, played well when given a chance. Indy still needs to see more consistency and growth, but the Colts should feel better about this group heading into the offseason than they did a year ago.
COST CUTTING: Indy needs to get younger on defense and could save some cash in the process. By releasing three players — 33-year-old linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, 30-year-old defensive tackle Arthur Jones and 29-year-old cornerback Patrick Robinson — the Colts could save roughly $13.2 million. Jones and Robinson battled injuries all season and have not lived up to their billing. Jackson was suspended for the final four games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy.