Indianapolis Colts: Deconstruction of a Champion to a New Era

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 19, 2013



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)

 

Eras come and go in the NFL. With free agency and the salary cap, today’s teams have found it even easier to rebuild or retool in a short period of time.

The Indianapolis Colts effectively started the transition away from the Peyton Manning era (1998-2011) last year when they released Manning along with a slew of other big-name veterans, fired coach Jim Caldwell and GM Bill Polian, and replaced them with Chuck Pagano, Ryan Grigson and then of course Andrew Luck at the top of the draft.

It was a fortunate time to hold the No. 1 pick, and the Colts quickly rebounded with an 11-5 record and playoff season. Much will be expected out of the Luck era, but it is one that clearly has little-to-no connection with the Manning era.

With the recent news that the Colts will not resign franchise-sack leader Dwight Freeney, the 2013 Colts will feature just four players from the 2006 Super Bowl championship team: Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Adam Vinatieri and Antoine Bethea.

 

Is this the new Four Horsemen?

Vinatieri was a free agent signed in 2006 and Bethea was taken in the 2006 draft. That leaves just Wayne (2001 draft) and Mathis (2003 draft) as the only Colts left from the 2003-05 teams who had to learn the hard way what it takes to win a championship. They are the only players who had to go through the tough losses to New England in Foxboro, or the sting of the upset at home to the 2005 Steelers.

Consider the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty of the 1970s. For eight seasons from 1974 through 1981, the Steelers had nine Hall of Fame players on their roster to help them win four Super Bowls. You will never see that happen again.

The 2013 Colts will be lucky to have nine players left from even their Super Bowl XLIV (2009) game-day roster. In addition to the aforementioned four players, the Colts still have (from 2009) Donald Brown and four unrestricted free agents who may not all return: Pat McAfee, Antonio Johnson, Fili Moala and Jerraud Powers. The Colts already announced they will not resigned often-injured receiver Austin Collie.

It will be only four seasons since the 2009 team chased perfection with a 14-0 start, and that team has just 5-to-9 players left on the roster at best. That is stunning, but it is also a sign of the times, and the fact that much of the roster overhaul was necessary.

The Manning model led to many wins and opportunities, but it had its flaws. Polian’s inability to keep talent flowing into the team after the Super Bowl win created a sinking ship that went down in no time without its captain in 2011.

When one ship sinks, you build a better one. That’s what the Colts are trying to do now, but there are still a few remaining casualties from the old era, and Freeney is a big one.

Once the Manning-equivalent for the Colts’ defense, Freeney, who turns 33 today, was a Hall of Fame-caliber pass-rusher, but injury and age have slowed him down. Not an ideal fit in Pagano’s 3-4 defense, it is understandable as a business decision why he is not finishing his career with the Colts.

It is good the Colts waited one more year to cut bait, as adding Freeney to the large list of departures from a year ago would have been too much for the fans to handle at once. Change has been swift and steady in Indianapolis, and you can see the process here.

 

Deconstructing a Super Bowl-winning roster

The 2006 Colts had their flaws, particularly on run defense, in the regular season, but talent-wise it was the right Indianapolis team to win a championship.

  • Peyton Manning was in his prime and playing as good as ever in 2006.
  • Joseph Addai was a fresh-legged rookie and provided a solid combo with veteran Dominic Rhodes. This committee approach beats having Edgerrin James taking all the carries and being fatigued come playoff time.
  • Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne only played three healthy years together in their primes (2004-06), and they were never better together than in 2006.
  • With injuries leaving no real option for a No. 3 receiver, Dallas Clark emerged with a breakout year and big playoff run.
  • The offensive line was never better with 30-year-old left tackle Tarik Glenn in his final season, Jeff Saturday still in his prime, good guards (Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott) and a younger Ryan Diem at right tackle.
  • Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were healthy for the full season. This was the first year Mathis was a full-time starter.
  • Anthony McFarland was a smart midseason trade from Tampa Bay to play on the interior line.
  • Cato June, Gary Brackett and Rob Morris stayed healthy to round out a solid corps of starting linebackers.
  • Antoine Bethea was a steal as a sixth-round rookie, while young reserve corners like Marlin Jackson (Tom Brady interception in AFC Championship) and Kelvin Hayden (pick six off Rex Grossman in Super Bowl) made huge, timely plays.
  • Adam Vinatieri was his usual clutch self and that alone is an improvement over Mike Vanderjagt.

Then you have Bob Sanders. Can one safety really make that much of a difference? When he was healthy in 2005 and 2007, the Colts had great statistics on defense. He missed 12 games in 2006 and they were terrible again.

But when Sanders returned for the playoffs, everything just clicked. It helped to play teams who had little to scare you with in the passing game, but the run defense suddenly was dominant, and the big plays with takeaways came for the Colts to win a Super Bowl.

In the following seasons things just did not click together the same way. Halfway through the 2007 season the running game disappeared and has yet to return to Indianapolis. Also in 2007 Freeney missed the second half of a season with an injury, Harrison just returned for the playoffs and lost a crucial fumble, and a bust like tackle Tony Ugoh blew a crucial block in the red zone in the fourth quarter.

The overall talent core continued to deteriorate, and with so many key injuries, the depth you would expect from the draft and free agency was just not there to overcome it, leaving a flawed team to be exposed in big games against top competition.

So when people talk about the Colts winning a championship without their best team, that really is not true. This was the roster with the right pieces with enough health and it came together at the right time.

The following table is an attempt to take the 2006 Colts’ roster and track when players left the franchise. The initial 2006 roster is based on players that played for the Colts that year, finished the season with the team, or were listed on the final roster.

In the end, 56 players made the list. A player like Corey Simon was technically part of the 2006 Colts, but never played a snap due to injury, and he was not invited to the Super Bowl ring ceremony that summer. He was not included.

The “Last IND Year” is the last season the player played for the Colts. The “GP Post XLI” is the number of regular-season games that player played for the Colts in the 2007 season and later. If a player was on the Colts in the year listed, then he gets a “X” in that cell.

Player

Pos.

Last IND Year

GP Post XLI

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Reggie Wayne

WR

2012

96

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Robert Mathis

DE

2012

86

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Antoine Bethea

S

2012

93

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Adam Vinatieri

K

2012

86

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Dwight Freeney

DE

2012

84

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Joseph Addai

RB

2011

62

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Gary Brackett

LB

2011

55

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Dallas Clark

TE

2011

63

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Ryan Diem

OT

2011

68

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Peyton Manning

QB

2011

64

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Jeff Saturday

C

2011

76

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Justin Snow

LS

2011

80

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Tyjuan Hagler

LB

2010

41

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

Kelvin Hayden

CB

2010

46

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

Charlie Johnson

OT

2010

57

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

Dominic Rhodes*

RB

2010

18

X

 

X

 

X

 

 

Bob Sanders

S

2010

24

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

Raheem Brock

DT

2009

43

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Daniel Federkeil

OT

2009

26

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Marlin Jackson

S

2009

27

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Tim Jennings

CB

2009

42

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Freddie Keiaho

LB

2009

41

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Ryan Lilja

G

2009

32

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

T.J. Rushing

DB

2009

29

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Jim Sorgi

QB

2009

6

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Josh Thomas

DE

2009

33

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Matt Giordano

S

2008

28

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

Marvin Harrison

WR

2008

20

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

Darrell Reid

DE

2008

32

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

Hunter Smith

P

2008

32

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

Rocky Boiman

LB

2007

16

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Bryan Fletcher

TE

2007

15

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Dylan Gandy

G

2007

10

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Klecko

DT

2007

8

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Aaron Moorehead

WR

2007

8

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Rob Morris

LB

2007

2

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Jake Scott

G

2007

16

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Utecht

TE

2007

14

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Jason David

CB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

De De Dorsey

RB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Doss

S

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gilbert Gardner

LB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tarik Glenn

OT

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick Harper

CB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cato June

LB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan LaCasse

LB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony McFarland

DT

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith O'Neil

LB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ricky Proehl

WR

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montae Reagor

DT

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dexter Reid

DB

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bo Schobel

DE

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Standeford

WR

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Stokley

WR

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Ulrich

G

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrence Wilkins

KR

2006

0

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Note: Dominic Rhodes had three stints with the Colts. In 2007 he left to sign with the Raiders before returning in 2008 to the Colts. After an unsuccessful attempt in Buffalo, Rhodes did not play in 2009 before playing in the UFL in 2010. The Colts signed him one more time late in the 2010 season.

These players played an average of 28.2 more regular-season games for the Colts following the 2006 season. That number of course is not yet complete with four remaining players on the team.

Of the 56 players, 19 – or a whopping 33.9 percent – of them were gone after the 2006 Super Bowl win. That’s pretty crazy how you can win a Super Bowl and quickly gut a third of the roster, but some of the moves were necessary.

Tarik Glenn, Anthony McFarland and Ricky Proehl all retired on top with a Super Bowl ring. They may not be Jerome Bettis or Ray Lewis, but good for them. Glenn is the player missed most, as at age 31, he likely would have had several more good seasons and would have saved the team from the Ugoh mistake.

Teams who win the Super Bowl often experience some roster poaching, and the Colts were no different, especially on defense. But that Tampa-2 scheme really helped some of these players in a way that exposed them when they left the Colts. Brandon Stokley quietly went to Denver, but the bigger fish were on that defense.

Cato June was a big name in free agency, though his time in Tampa Bay was rather forgettable. Both starting cornerbacks, Jason David and Nick Harper, were gone. David was exposed badly by Manning and the Colts in the 2007 season opener. He lasted two years in New Orleans, never playing in the league again. Harper lasted three years in Tennessee.

After the 2007 season the Colts said goodbye to eight more XLI winners. This time it was mostly backups, but Rob Morris was a former first-round pick in 2000 by the team. Injury did him in. Jake Scott was a solid guard, but when your quarterback is Manning, you have leeway to not overpay that position.

Just two full seasons removed from the Super Bowl win, the Colts only retained 26 of the 56 players (46.4 percent) on that roster. This also means the Manning-era Colts reached their second Super Bowl in 2009 with only 26 players from the first one in 2006.

The first really big name left when Marvin Harrison retired following an injury-plagued 2007 season and a clearly-lost-his-step season in 2008. Long-time punter Hunter Smith also left, but you can always easily replace those guys in the draft, and with a low pick (got that, Jacksonville?). Enter Pat McAfee, who might be one of the few remaining bright spots from Polian’s last five drafts.

Tony Dungy also retired after the 2008 season, ushering in the Jim Caldwell era.

In 2009 the Colts reached Super Bowl XLIV with the help of many new faces compared to their previous Super Bowl run. In the offseason they said goodbye to players like Raheem Brock, Tim Jennings and Ryan Lilja, each of which did go on to success in other cities.

Marlin Jackson was a first-round pick in 2005, expected to replace one of the starting corners, but he could not stay healthy and the team parted ways. This began to be a recurring theme with the secondary.

Kelvin Hayden was the second-round pick in 2005, but after his big pick six in Super Bowl XLVI, he started 45 more games for the Colts before the team let him go after the 2010 season. He missed 12 games in the 2009-10 seasons.

A player like Jerraud Powers (promising third-round pick in 2009) was expected to replace Hayden, but he too has been often injured, missing 22 games in the last four seasons. It remains to be seen if the Colts resign him.

In all, after 2010 the Colts let five more players from 2006 go, including the poster boy for injury on this team: Bob Sanders. He only lasted two games for the Chargers in 2011 before going on injured reserve for the fourth-straight season.

The 2010 season in general was a huge one for key injuries to the Colts, but they still won 10 games and made the playoffs because they avoided the biggest injury: one to Manning.

But that good fortune of Manning’s iron-man ability to make 227 consecutive starts came to a shocking end when four neck surgeries led to him missing the entire 2011 season. Many of the other key players returned for a healthy 2011, but with a team built to win by Manning covering up the deficiencies, it was a disastrous 2-14 finish.

By holding the No. 1 pick, starting over with a new coach and GM, the allure of Stanford’s Andrew Luck and locking down a franchise quarterback for the next 10-15 years was too great for the Colts not to do the unthinkable: release Manning.

They did that on March 7, and two days later the cuts continued with core veterans like Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Gary Brackett. Ryan Diem later retired, and long-time center Jeff Saturday signed with the Green Bay Packers as a free agent. Even the damn long-snapper of 12 seasons, Justin Snow, was released before the season really started.

If that was not bloody enough, some expected the Colts to go full-blown genocide in their rebuild mode.

After Pierre Garcon signed a big deal with Washington, many expected Reggie Wayne to follow Manning to his new team, but he surprised fans with a three-year deal to stay in Indianapolis. It would prove to be a brilliant move for Luck’s development.

There was already talk last year of moving Freeney and/or Mathis since they did not appear to fit in Pagano’s 3-4, but both stayed for 2011. Now Mathis (91.5 sacks) takes over defensive seniority and may have time left to supplant Freeney (107.5 sacks) as the Colts’ sack leader.

 

A new era

The Colts entered 2012 with just five players left from 2006, and now they look towards 2013 with four horsemen, and without Freeney. This is the definition of a fast rebuild, which may have never happened if a certain quarterback never needed surgery on his neck.

But for the long-term success of the team, this was probably much needed. Now Grigson can try and find new building blocks to put around Luck like the Colts once had with Manning.

In a few years when one compares the 2012 Colts to the 2015 Colts, you may look at players like T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen as those building blocks.

This is the Luck/Pagano/Grigson era now, but it is still one subject to mass player movement and the need for incredible draft picks and key free-agent signings.

If these Colts continue to win consistently, then 2011 will look like a minor blip in a long run of success. But even if some of the results are familiar, history should show that they did it their way in their own era.

 

Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


From our partners




Team Pages
AFC East NFC
South
North
West

Connect With Us
Sign up for our newsletter to recieve all the latest news and updates...
Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.




The Football Nation Network

© Copyright 2014 Football Nation LLC. Privacy Policy & Terms of Use
Some images property of Getty Images or Icon/SMI