2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Colts know restoration project not finished yet

    2013-01-11 06:13

(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Jim Irsay's decisions seem so logical now.

A year ago, he wanted new blood in the front office and on the sideline. He needed a plan for the future, and he had to clear a spot for a new franchise quarterback to grow, even if it meant cutting Peyton Manning.

Longtime Indianapolis fans and hordes of critics thought Irsay was crazy to turn the page on one of the most successful runs in league history and start completely over. But after one of the most remarkable one-year turnarounds in NFL history, all those moves may prove to be the future model for major rebuilding projects around the league.

``I didn't want to flip it because I like continuity,'' he told The Associated Press this week. ``It was just, it needed to change. No one wanted to see or realize that it was over. But it was over.''

What Irsay could see so clearly then was the sun setting on the Manning era in Indy. If he wanted to give Indianapolis another decade to remember, he had to rebuild while he had the chance.

Buried under salary cap limitations and having to contend with more frequent injuries to aging stars, Irsay knew Indy wasn't just getting older - it was sliding further and further from the Super Bowl. The Colts had gone from 14-2 in their 2009 AFC championship season to 10-6 and a first-round playoff exit in 2010 to 2-14 and the No. 1 overall pick last season.

So in the NFL's version of a blink, Irsay made a clean, abrupt break with the past.

``It was just an incredible year,'' Irsay said. ``It's one of those things that I think 15, 20 years from now, people will look at the way we reorganized our team and what we did and I can see where there might be an owner asking a GM that question about turning it around that fast and the GM will say that's too unrealistic to think about. And I can see the owner saying, `Well, the Colts did it.'''

Duplicating what the Colts did in 2012 may be nearly impossible, though.

After losing coach Chuck Pagano for 12 weeks as he battled leukemia, Indy went 9-3 under interim coach Bruce Arians and made its first playoff appearance without Manning since 1996. The nine-win improvement, to 11-5, was better than all but two teams in NFL history - the 1998 Colts and the 2008 Dolphins, who each won 10 more games than the previous season.

Andrew Luck delivered one of the best rookie seasons by any NFL quarterback and the newcomers produced more combined yards rushing and receiving than any rookie class since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. They did all that with a completely new offense, a shortened offseason program and a quarterback who really only got about two weeks to work with his teammates before training camp opened.

That's why Irsay believes it's only a start.

``I think if you go out and win six games with a rookie quarterback, that's a hell of a year when you're comparing it to Peyton's 3-13 or Cam Newton's 6-10,'' Irsay said. ``Winning 11 games and beating the Texans, who had so much to play for that last week, that was literally like winning a playoff game.''

Irsay knows the team still needs more help protecting Luck and more play-makers on defense. And if general manager Ryan Grigson does as well in this year's draft as last year's and spends wisely in free agency - the Colts are projected to be more than $40 million under the cap - Indy could be a significantly stronger club in 2013.

In some ways, all this is familiar to Irsay.

When he walked off the field at Minnesota in the 1997 season finale, Irsay knew he'd be choosing which of the two presumed franchise quarterbacks available, Manning and Ryan Leaf, he would take with the No. 1 pick. He cleared the way by firing general manager Bill Tobin, coach Lindy Infante and trading Jim Harbaugh, known as Captain Comeback, to Baltimore.

Fourteen years later, Irsay walked off the field in Jacksonville in a familiar predicament. Again he had the No. 1 overall pick and again he was choosing between two presumed franchise quarterbacks, Luck and Robert Griffin III. And again he fired his front office leaders, Bill and Chris Polian, and coach Jim Caldwell, and then let Manning go.

Irsay knew then it was the right thing to do - not the easy thing - no matter what anyone else thought.

``It was a year that took a toll on me. It was terribly emotional with Peyton and everything that went on here,'' Irsay said. ``We just realized it was better for him to go to a veteran team that had won a playoff game and it was better for us to try and get a new era started. We both didn't like it. But we knew it was in the best interests of everyone involved.

``It was unfortunate that the chess board shifted. But I felt it was necessary to start again and really have that total change come about. It was no different than 1998.''

Irsay pleaded with fans to be patient, reminding them that Manning won only three games as a rookie, made the playoffs in his second season, didn't win a playoff until Year 6 and didn't bring home the Lombardi Trophy until after the 2006 season.

Turns out, the Colts didn't need patience.

They just needed Irsay to make the tough calls and stick to his convictions.

``The way the chess board lined up for us couldn't have been worse as (last) season wound down,'' Irsay said. ``I walked out of that locker room in Jacksonville and it just couldn't have been tougher. So when you look back at this season, you take so much pride in what you were able to do. I am just amazed at what we accomplished.''

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Philip RiversDec 20 07:22p

San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers (back) is active Saturday, Dec. 20, for Week 16.

Ryan MathewsDec 20 07:22p

San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) is inactive Saturday, Dec. 20, for Week 16.

Ryan MathewsDec 20 07:12p

The San Diego Chargers have declared LB Cordarro Law, DL Damion Square, CB Greg Ducre, WR Keenan Allen, P Mike Scifres, DL Ryan Carrethers, RB Ryan Mathews inactive for Week 16.

Carlos HydeDec 20 07:12p

San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde (ankle) is inactive Saturday, Dec. 20.

Ahmad BrooksDec 20 07:02p

The San Francisco 49ers have declared LB Ahmad Brooks, OG Andrew Tiller, RB Carlos Hyde, OG Joe Looney, QB Josh X. Johnson, WR Stevie Johnson, CB Tramaine Brock inactive for Week 16.

Dennis KellyDec 20 03:32p

The Philadelphia Eagles have declared OT Dennis Kelly, WR Jeff Maehl, S Jerome Couplin III, OG Julian Vandervelde, QB Nick Foles, DE Taylor Hart, LB Trent Cole inactive for Week 16.

Leonard HankersonDec 20 03:12p

The Washington Redskins have declared CB Chibuikem Okoro, LB Gabe Miller, DL Jason Hatcher, OG Josh LeRibeus, LB Keenan Robinson, WR Leonard Hankerson inactive for Week 16.

Roy HeluDec 20 03:02p

Washington Redskins RB Roy Helu (toe) is inactive Saturday, Dec. 20, against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Peyton ManningDec 19 07:42p

Updating a previous report, Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (thigh) was officially limited in practice Friday, Dec. 19, but he threw more than he did than the day prior, [ More ]

Frank GoreDec 19 05:42p

San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore (concussion) was limited in practice Friday, Dec. 19, and is questionable for Week 16.

Keenan AllenDec 19 04:42p

San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (knee) and WR Keenan Allen (shoulder, ankle) have been ruled out for Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Cam NewtonDec 19 04:12p

Updating previous reports, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (back) has yet to officially be cleared to play in Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns, but head coach Ron Rivera [ More ]

T Y HiltonDec 19 02:32p

Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) missed practice all week but is questionable for Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys.

Peyton ManningDec 19 02:22p

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (thigh) was back to a full practice Friday, Dec. 19, after being limited Thursday, Dec. 18. Manning made several strong throws in the portion open to the media.

T Y HiltonDec 19 02:12p

Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) missed practice again Friday, Dec. 19, and RTV6's Mike Chappell is convinced that Hilton will not play in Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys.

C.J. SpillerDec 19 12:53p

Buffalo Bills RB C.J. Spiller (shoulder) has been added to the active roster and is probable for Week 16 against the Oakland Raiders.

Cam NewtonDec 19 12:52p

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (back) is listed as probable for Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns.

Blake BortlesDec 19 12:12p

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T Y HiltonDec 19 11:52a

Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) is not participating in the portion of practice open to the media Friday, Dec. 19.

Julio JonesDec 19 11:22a

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (hip) is not participating in portion of practice open to the media Friday, Dec. 19.

DeMarco MurrayDec 19 10:52a

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Eddie LacyDec 19 10:12a

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Leon WashingtonDec 18 11:32p

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Philip RiversDec 18 11:22p

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Peyton ManningDec 18 07:22p

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (thigh, illness) said his illness is behind him, and he was receiving treatment for his thigh Thursday, Dec. 18. Head coach John Fox called Manning day-to-day.

Roy MillerDec 18 07:12p

The Jacksonville Jaguars have declared DL Andre Branch, CB Jeremy Harris, SS Matt Daniels, DL Roy Miller, CB Teddy Williams, WR Tommy Streeter, OG Tyler Shatley inactive for Week 16.

Tommy StreeterDec 18 07:12p

The Jacksonville Jaguars have declared DL Andre Branch, CB Jeremy Harris, SS Matt Daniels, DL Roy Miller, CB Teddy Williams, WR Tommy Streeter, OG Tyler Shatley inactive for Week 16.

Kendall WrightDec 18 07:12p

Tennessee Titans WR Kendall Wright (hand) is active for Week 16 after being limited in practice all week.

Frank GoreDec 18 07:02p

San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore (concussion) continues through the concussion protocol this week, but head coach Jim Harbaugh anticipates Gore suiting up in Week 16 against the San [ More ]

Julius ThomasDec 18 06:52p

Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle) played just 29 snaps in Week 15; only ten of them were pass routes, according to Pro Football Focus.

Rashad JenningsDec 18 06:12p

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (ankle) did not practice Thursday, Dec. 18.

Carlos HydeDec 18 05:52p

San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde (ankle) did not practice Thursday, Dec. 18.

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