There’s Always More to the Story

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Posted by bernreuther on March 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm

This morning, Bill Polian sat on a panel at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference about “sports breakups,” in which he told us several excellent stories about the emotions involved with cutting players and firing coaches (and what makes a coach last) and in which he also showed some of his famous stubbornness and made the laughable assertion that the Colts could very well have kept Peyton Manning AND Andrew Luck after the 2012 draft.

It occurred to me that a lot of people just assumed that the reason Bill Polian was fired was because he stopped hitting home runs in the draft and because he was incorrectly (but also occasionally correctly) regarded as a jerk.

That’s certainly part of it; the drafts certainly contributed. But what they contributed to – the 2012 salary cap situation – is the bigger issue, more than anything draft or behavior-related. Because the 2012 Colts were going to be screwed even if Peyton Manning’s neck had been 100% all along.

Much has been made about all the dead money that the team carried. And without some June 1 designations, they could have had even more cap trouble. And sure, if Manning had been kept, they wouldn’t have eaten quite the same sum of his contract all in one year. (They just would have been locked into eating millions more of it in future years, making it even worse.) But people tend to forget just how bad the rest of the Colts roster was by 2011. Manning made everyone around him better, sure, but he wouldn’t have been able to do very much with what was left in 2012 after all the necessary cuts would have been made.

So it is very very convenient and interesting that a mere four hours later, Bob Kravitz published a gem of an interview with Colts owner Jim Irsay, wherein he touches on some of the things that everybody forgets: Keeping and paying Peyton Manning would have crippled not only the 2012 Colts, but several more years worth of teams as well. It simply could not work. At all. And being a good and smart owner, Irsay knew it all along.

“…and he understood the cap room situation where, if he’d stayed, there would have been no Reggie Wayne, no Winston Justice, no Samson Satele, I’m not sure about Robert Mathis. We couldn’t have kept anybody. I mean, our offensive line would have been even worse than it was. The worst thing you can imagine would have been to see (Manning) struggling with a team completely deprived of talent, being 1-6 or something like that and then calls for Andrew to come in and play over Peyton. I could see it happening. The cap situation was that dire.

As we have discussed before, paying Manning’s option bonus last year would have locked him in for the next four seasons. Tom Condon negotiated a gem of a deal (and don’t believe what Polian said this morning about it “absolutely” being up for re-structuring; there was no incentive whatsoever for Peyton to do that and Condon wouldn’t have). And doing that would leave the team without the successor that fell into their laps and without a whole lot of other pieces to build with either.

Pardon the pun, but the team got Lucky as could be in 2011. A healthy Manning would’ve taken them to the playoffs, but the team would have struggled for the next decade. Heck, even one more win might have ensured that same fate! 2011 was a necessary evil, and may very well have been one of the best things to happen to the franchise since their previous #1 pick in 1998.

I think the world of Bill Polian. But draft misses – or even just singles where he used to hit doubles – led to him paying to keep veterans like Gary Brackett and Kelvin Hayden and Joe Addai where he previously made the difficult but correct decisions like letting Mike Peterson and Edgerrin James walk. And those contracts spread signing bonus prorations out into their years of decline and kicked the can down the proverbial road. 2012 was going to be a bloodbath, Manning or no Manning. And it was all avoidable. There’s always more to the story, of course, but the 2012 cap situation was a mostly-overlooked element that played a very large role in the switch that landed Ryan Grigson in Indianapolis.

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