Let me state immediately that I am not a Colts fan, apologist, or hater. I am an NFL fan who lives in Indiana so all Colts game are available to me on TV so I watch them because Colts games are entertaining. In the course of the past couple decades of course I have usually found myself pulling for them if not rooting for them.
One key reason is I like Peyton Manning. He has revolutionized the quarterback position in many respects. I know he has many detractors like any star athlete, but by any measurement he will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. And I believe that Tony Dungy is one of the most respectable people in all of athletics. So Manning and Dungy are two reasons that I enjoyed watching so many Colts games over the last decade.
Their record year after year has been phenomenal in terms of wins and division titles and one Super Bowl victory. But I am torn between amazement at their level of consistently high achievement and the feeling that they should still have accomplished more. I think they should have beaten the Saints in last year's Super Bowl, but I think the Colts were out-coached and I was pleased to see Drew Brees get a ring.
Still I have never been impressed with their defense and their special teams meaning their kick return and kick coverage teams. The defense is often praised as small but quick. I don't disagree but they are often seen as soft also. The kick coverage teams have always been suspect and the kick return teams seldom make a big play. And age is also catching up with many of the key players.
For a number of reasons at the beginning of the 2010 season I told friends that the Colts would only win eight and at most ten games this season and not win their division. And I based that on assuming most of their roster would remain intact. But I ended up being wrong with some help from an underachieving team in Houston. But I think Houston, Jacksonville, and Tennessee will all be better next season. You have to hope that the Colts will be too if many of the injured players can return and contribute. But you have to wonder if several like Bob Sanders and Anthony Gonzales will ever play another game in a Colts uniform and if Austin Collie will ever return from multiple concussions and how much longer aging stars like Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney can continue to produce at high levels.
So I honestly have to say that I was wrong and I think they way overachieved this season when they won ten games and won their division with 17 (at last count that I know of) players lost for the season on the injured reserve list, many of whom are key players. And when you consider the problems on the offensive line and how Manning's receiving cast was decimated, he might have had his best season in some respects because he had to do so much seemingly on his own.
In addition to aging key players and many of them lost to injury, several years of not drafting until late in the first round and frankly less than stellar picks are catching up with the Colts. When you combine that with spending countless millions on a relative handful of players leaving less and less room available under the salary cap to build an adequate supporting cast, I think that begins to explain the Colts dilemma.
How can you build a deep solid roster when so much of your financial resources are committed to so few players? How many players have been lost in free agency and not adequately replaced? Do you ever think about how rare it is to read about a player cut by the Colts being picked up by another team? It seems that Colts pick up players cut from other teams a lot more often than the reverse.
The interesting question is what this means for the Colts in future seasons assuming a new CBA. The Colts never do much in the free agent market since they don't have much room under the salary cap, so the draft will be crucial in filling so many holes on the offensive line and all over the defense. I am not sure what needs they will decide to address first but it is clear that the days when Bill Polian can draft a future star like Dallas Clark despite not needing more receivers are gone. And it would be nice too if they could find a backup quarterback because a solid backup might allow them to compete even if Manning is injured since most of the ESPN crew thinks the Colts would win four games at most in a season without Peyton Manning.
I guess if you want to think a little longer term, consider that Peyton Manning will be 35 years old in March. Normally that would indicate that his best years are behind him, but he is anything but normal. Even so, the Colts had better start thinking about some kind of succession plan (see Packers and Aaron Rodgers) because he won't be wearing 18 forever. And you wonder too what that means for the future of fan support and the health of the franchise going forward.