Frank Reich: Colts can turn it around ‘faster than you think’
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What an eight-day ride for Frank Reich.
From the proverbial penthouse to something much closer to the basement.
From that magical Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, when confetti fell and Reich’s Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII, to that life-altering Feb. 11 in Indy when he was entrusted with the on-field leadership of the Indianapolis Colts.
From the 16-3, Lombardi Trophy-hoisting Eagles to the 4-12, hand-wringing Colts.
It was apparent from day one Reich was eager to attack the transition from euphoria to reality check. During his introductory press conference, he talked of returning “the joy’’ to the city, the level of football-related excitement generated and shared during that incredible decade of the 2000s.
Thus far, Reich has said all the right things and, at least temporarily, re-energized the fan base. But it’s worth remembering the task ahead. The Colts are picking third in the April 26 NFL Draft for a reason.
Remember, they missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year for the first time in 23 years. They’ve endured three straight non-winning seasons for the first time in 26 years.
Prior to last week’s town hall with season ticket holders, Reich was asked: Are the Colts rebuilding? Retooling? Is this a two- or three-year project?
“I don’t put a number on the ‘How soon?’’’ he replied. “From what I’ve experienced and what I’ve witnessed, what we’re doing is an on-going building project that’s always on-going. Always, always, always, whether you’ve just won the Super Bowl or whether you’ve come off a 4-12.
“That’s nothing new. You’re always tweaking. The priority is for everybody to be on the same page, just continue to find ways. Little incremental ways to get better.’’
It appeared Reich realized he was rambling a bit. He paused, then returned to the gist of his point.
“The whole point to what I was trying to say, although I don’t put a time on it, when you get the right players it can happen faster than you think,’’ he said.
We’re not here to re-write history. The ’17 Colts – the Andrew Luck-less Colts – were a mess. The offense ranked 31st in total yards and 30th in scoring, and allowed a league-high 56 sacks. The defense ranked 30th in yards allowed and 30th in points, and 31st with 25 sacks.
But Reich has a point.
Despite their many flaws, the Colts have the wherewithal to make an expedited return to relevancy. In fact, the pressure’s on Reich, general manager Chris Ballard and the entire personnel staff to maximize the available resources and reinforce the roster during what must be considered a pivotal offseason.
There’s the NFL’s upcoming free-agent market and the fact the Colts are projected to have more than $70 million in cap space and an owner who’s been more than willing to pay – often overpay – for talent.
And there’s Indy’s position in the April draft. With the third overall pick, Ballard has the option of staying put and grabbing a difference-maker – perhaps N.C. State pass rusher Bradley Chubb or Penn State running back Saquon Barkley – or trading back to a team interested in taking a quarterback and acquiring addition draft picks.
Ballard also will be selective in re-signing his own free-agents-to-be. He retained Adam Vinatieri last week, and probably will make a push to keep a few others; cornerback Rashaan Melvin comes to mind.
Ballard will lead the Colts contingent to the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium this week as part of his offseason roster renovation. He’s made it clear it’s time for the franchise to roll up its sleeves.
“We still have work to do,’’ he said during the town hall. “One thing I am is a realist. I don’t ever try to paint a picture that’s not true.
“We have work to do. At every position we have work to do.’’
That work will include free agency – Ballard signed nearly a dozen veterans last offseason – but the primary focus of building a championship roster remains with the draft.
“You can’t build a sustained winner, one that lasts over time, in free agency,’’ he said. “You can’t do it. You’ve got to draft your own players. At the end of the day, you’ve got to draft and develop and stack drafts – one, two, three drafts – on top of each other where these guys are homegrown Colts.
“When I walk around the stadium, I see Malik Hooker’s name on the back of a jersey. I see Quincy Wilson’s name. I see Nate Hairston’s name. When you draft a player and you’re able to extend him to a second contract and he’s able to play within the organization, he’s able to teach the younger players, ‘This is how we do it. This is how we work. This is how we’re going to win games.’’’
Free agency is a “supplement,’’ according to Ballard, one that must be guided by self-imposed restrictions.
“The one thing we won’t do is pay a mid-level player ‘blue money’ . . . top-of-the-line, high dollars for a guy that is not going to give us that type of production,’’ he said. “Like I tell our guys all the time, ‘We put a value on a guy for a reason, because that’s his value for us.’’’
Last year’s free-agent class delivered several viable players to the roster at a reasonable cost, including linebackers Jabaal Sheard (three years, $25.5 million) John Simon (three years, $13.5 million) and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (three years, $30 million).
The ultimate goal is to add a handful of players who’ll make a difference.
The ultimate goal is to build a roster capable of winning whether Luck returns after missing last season, or Jacoby Brissett once again is under center.
“I think I’ve said this since the day I stepped in the door: It’s never about one person, and it will never be about one person,’’ Ballard said. “Is Andrew an important piece? Absolutely he is.
“But we’ve got to build the team up around him that’s good enough to win when Andrew’s not at his best or when he doesn’t play. There’s a way to win a game every Sunday. We have to figure out how to win that game.’’
And figure that out sooner, not later.