By Mike Chappell
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 23, 2015)– It’s a delicate balancing act, one that has Ryan Grigson juggling the present and the future. On one hand, the Indianapolis Colts’ general manager is following the directive of owner Jim Irsay to do whatever it takes to win. Now. The overriding objective is building a roster capable of reaching Super Bowl L, Feb. 7 in San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium. On the other hand, short-term motivations shouldn’t jeopardize Irsay’s long-term vision of his franchise remaining a perennial championship contender. The Colts have reached the playoffs in 14 of the last 16 seasons.
“We have in our mind every day to build for sustained success,’’ Grigson said Thursday afternoon. “It’s a tricky balance.
“We’ve never really rebuilt here. We’ve built on the fly. We have a talent like Andrew (Luck). We have to surround him with as many pieces as we can. It’s not an easy job, but Chuck (Pagano) and I are always trying to improve this thing.’’
The next step comes April 30-May 2 with the NFL draft. The Colts hold nine picks in the seven-round process, including No. 29 overall.
The immediate objective is adding the next wave of young talent to the roster.
“I want playmakers,’’ Grigson said. “I know Chuck wants playmakers. We need playmakers.’’
Perhaps a dynamic defensive lineman or stout offensive tackle. Maybe a safety to address a glaring lack of quality and depth at the position. Grigson didn’t discount adding a playmaking receiver with an early-round pick despite that being arguably the team’s deepest positions.
Whatever the pedigree of players added next week, they’ll offer an important counterbalance to the Colts’ recent foray into the league’s veteran free-agent market. ‘Veteran’ was the operative word.
Grigson addressed various needs by investing heavily – approximately $25 million in guarantees – in four players whose best years undoubtedly are behind them: wide receiver Andre Johnson, who turns 34 in July; running back Frank Gore, who turns 32 next month; outside linebacker Trent Cole, 32; and guard Todd Herremans, 32.
“You see signs on film when guys are old,’’ Grigson said. “I’ve seen guys look completely different from one year to the next because they kind of fall off that cliff.
“But those guys were all still producing at a high level on film.’’
The roster put together by Grigson and Pagano features 13 players who are at least 30. Only the Chicago Bears, with 14, have more. The Colts boast the NFL’s oldest player (placekicker Adam Vinatieri, 42) and oldest quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck, who turns 40 in September).
But remember that balancing act.
The offensive foundation consists of Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, all products of the 2012 draft. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo was the team’s 2011 first-round pick. Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis is entering his seventh season, but is just 26.
The Colts have reached the playoffs in each of the last three seasons with identical 11-5 records. They’ve gone deeper into the postseason each year, highlighted by a trip to the AFC Championship game in January.
Grigson’s personnel moves to this point have been driven by the desire to extend that playoff run, and take it a step further.
Johnson replaces Reggie Wayne, the personable and ultra-productive wideout who wasn’t re-signed after 14 seasons and six Pro Bowl appearances. Gore is viewed as the durable and productive running back that’s been missing. Cole is expected to boost the pass rush. Herremans might be the front-runner to start at right guard.
The Colts got marginally older with the offseason acquisitions, but probably got better as well. Oddsmakers consider them one of the early favorites to win the Super Bowl.
“In free agency, there were guys there that we thought could help us in the short term and in the long term because they’re those type of guys (who) are kind of age-defying specimens,’’ Grigson said. “We like those older guys who are like that.’’
He noted the value of a Johnson or Gore transcends the playing field.
Johnson, Grigson said, “adds a dimension of professionalism and want-to. He knows the hourglass is dwindling and Father Time is eventually going to catch up to all of us.
“I like some of these guys strategically, putting them in a position where they’re going to lead a group. They’re going to help some of those young draft picks we’re going to bring in on how it’s done. Sometimes you need to plug those (older) players in. You need to have some guys that kind of steady the ship.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.