We’re all very much aware of the Indianapolis Colts inability to maintain roster retention through the new regime. In fact, from the team’s collective draft haul between 2012-2015, there are only 11 of their 30 (36.6 percent) draft selections remaining on the roster in some form or fashion — and five of those are from the 2015 class alone. Additionally, that 2015 class is the only class in which a selection from the fourth-round, or later, is still rostered.
Clearly, there is something about the drafting process that is leading to a lack of retention; namely, an obvious lack of focus and homework being done on the player’s background in the later rounds especially. Five of these late round selections have either had run-ins with the law, or have had multiple suspensions for substances banned by the league.
The Colts have now rostered an undrafted free agent for 18 straight seasons, which you could see as a sign of digging through the talent to possibly find minimal contribution outside of the draft process. However, lately, it’s become more of a situation where the Colts are depending on their post-draft process to find key contributors due to the lack of retention from past draft classes, coupled with aging free agent acquisitions who have very seldom worked out.
Nearly all of these free agent signings have either been in their late 20’s, early 30’s, have had injury concerns, only one season of notable production or a combination of all of the above. Erik Walden, who was widely considered to be a “dumb” signing at the time, has been the most productive and improved each season.
When we look at the organizations trades, primarily when draft picks were involved, they’ve been often just as frustrating with guys like Josh Gordy, Trent Richardson, Sio Moore and Winston Justice (swapped sixth-round picks) all costing draft capital and receiving almost zero production in return. Often with these transactions, general manager Ryan Grigson will turn a blind eye to production in favor of the hefty price tag, or the new shiny toy which leads to empty competitions and productive players being benched on a whim for lesser players hurting the team’s viability.
A perfect example of this is the situation from 2014 when A.Q. Shipley was benched after being one of the top rated centers in the league through the first quarter of the season, in favor of UDFA Jonotthan Harrison who proved to be utterly awful in his rookie season. Not only did Grigson, Pagano — whoever you want to blame — refuse to get Harrison out of that position, but they wouldn’t return Shipley to the lineup for any reason other than injury. Richardson is another prime example. He was consistently terrible, yet the pressure from a colossal bust of a trade was too much to give Ahmad Bradshaw, or any other running back for that matter, the lion’s share of the carries.
Of course it doesn’t stop there. Let’s fast forward to this year’s training camp. After wasting a sixth-round draft pick by sending it to Oakland in return for Sio Moore — whom the Raiders had no interest in keeping to begin with — the coaching staff, and front office, labeled Moore the de facto starting inside linebacker opposite D’Qwell Jackson. They decided this was a “great idea” after Moore racked up a grand total of 4 tackles in 12 games in 2015.
Their tunnel vision in this aspect, aside from the reported “higher priority” of landing a top cornerback, also contributed to allowing Jerrell Freeman to walk in free agency. They thought it was a good idea to allow a perennial 100-tackle linebacker to walk, in favor of a guy with 105 tackles in his career at the time. What’s more, this blind, smug approach lead them to breaking ties with Junior Sylvestre — who was the team’s best linebacker in the preseason in 2015 by a significant margin — and Nate Irving among others.
Now, the Colts have to depend on Josh McNary to be the lone inside linebacker to excel in coverage, which is a long shot in and of itself. Trevor Bates, whom the Colts drafted in the seventh-round in the 2016 draft, has now been elevated to the 53-man roster and there is a good chance that the team will attempt to mold him into an inside linebacker, when he is a natural outside linebacker and was drafted as such.
This is another issue as well. Think Bjoern Werner for a moment, a natural 4-3 outside linebacker deformed into an ineffective 3-4 rush/”Sam” mashup, contributing a bit more to his being a bust as well as several more examples often ending the same way.
The Colts don’t just have a coaching or drafting problem, they have a complete failure in their systematic approach which can only be improved by heavy change and wiping the slate clean of those involved in the process. There is very little that can be gained by any front office changes within the season, however, this offseason’s approach from Jim Irsay may be more important than ever. Cut bait before this failed approach creates a culture of losing, and sends the organization into a hole that it spends the next decade attempting to dig itself out of.