INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – On a bright, comfortable Sunday afternoon, Jim Irsay pulled up in a golf cart and addressed a smorgasbord of subjects regarding his business.
That would be the Indianapolis Colts.
His 30-minute give-and-take with the media began with his hope – expectation? – the NFL Scouting Combine, which takes over downtown this week, continues to fend off calls for a relocation and remains in Indy “for many years to come.’’ His attention then shifted to his family’s commitment to funneling “millions of dollars’’ into IU Health and other state agencies’ efforts to fighting alcoholism and addiction.
The latter is a core commitment to Irsay.
“It is a disease and I think it’s important we get people and protect people and people aren’t shamed from this disease, because that kills,’’ he said.
Then, Irsay smiled and acknowledged most of his audience wanted to pick his brain on all things Colts as the franchise heads into what figures to be a defining offseason. The overriding topics: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Anthony Castonzo, Jacoby Brissett, Adam Vinatieri, Jacoby Brissett, the April 23-25 NFL Draft, Jacoby Brissett, veteran free agency and, yes, Jacoby Brissett.
Here’s a sampling:
The backstory: The face of the franchise sent shockwaves across the city and entire NFL landscape Aug. 24 when he announced his retirement. Luck cited the need to remove himself from the endless cycle of injury/pain/rehab that had taken the joy out of the game.
Irsay, Part 1 (the future): “Andrew’s my friend and I miss my friend. I loved winning games with him. I loved seeing his happiness in the locker room. But right now, I know (Frank Reich) has had dinner with him, Chris (Ballard) has had dinner with him. But I can’t comment on anything in terms of: Will he ever come back? Is he coming back this year . . . next year? I don’t know. I haven’t asked him.
“Right now, he’s doing the most honorable thing and the thing I would want him to do the most. He’s an excellent husband and a tremendous father to Lucy. To me that’s where we all start as men and women. We’ll see what happens.’’
Irsay, Part 2 (coming to terms with decision): “I don’t think you ever quite come to terms with that. I mean, he’s a special guy. He’s a special guy for your organization; only 29 years old. I told him, ‘Andrew, this is a free country and I respect your decision.’ I would never want to talk someone out of that because the way this game is played. It is not a contact sport. It is a collision sport. It’s a tough game.
“I try to make the argument (with him) also, ‘What about the $700 million you’re leaving on the table.’ I think we’ll have an outstanding decade and I think Andrew will have an outstanding life. Will those things meet? It’s very possible, but it’s also not possible. . . . We have to go on with the assumption that he’s not going to be back. If he comes back, that’s easy.’’
The backstory: The second Luck walked away, the Colts pivoted to Jacoby Brissett. They had no other choice. They added one year to his contract – essentially giving him a two-year, $30 million deal – with the intention of buying time to evaluate whether he could handle the job. As Ballard said, the jury still is out. After leading the Colts to a 5-2 start with efficient quarterbacking, Brissett’s performance severely tailed off. He sprained the MCL in his left knee in week 9 at Pittsburgh, and never regained his early-season form. He was 2-5 in his last seven starts and his passer rating plunged from 99.2 pre-injury to 75.1 post-injury.
Brissett’s Jekyll/Hyde 2019 is forcing Irsay and Balalrd to consider every option on the most consequential position moving forward. Draft a QB? Sign a veteran free agent? Stick with Brissett?
Irsay, Part 1: “If we’re going to the stadium for a Sunday Night Football game, Jacoby’s the quarterback. I think that Jacoby is on the rise, and you’ve gotta give him time to develop. People forget that Peyton, one of the greatest ever in my opinion, the greatest, I mean, 3-13 in ’98 . . . 2001, 6-10. All of sudden, Jacoby goes 7-9, it’s like the world’s falling apart. We had a lot of injuries, special teams wasn’t outstanding and the combination of those things and Jacoby being a starter for the first time, that’s a lot to overcome.
“Right now, Jacoby is the starter. (Brian) Hoyer is the backup. I think that’s our starting point and I think that’s better than probably half the league.’’
Irsay, Part 2 (other options at QB): “We’ll keep evaluating that position. I mean, you guys know how important that is. I know we’ll find the right answer and Jacoby can have a much higher ceiling that he has now. That’s a possibility. We could draft someone. That’s a possibility. Doesn’t have to be the first round. There’s a lot of good players out there. I know we were going to take Russell Wilson the year (2012) we took Andrew in the fourth round, but he was gone in the third (to Seattle). We would have taken him, but that’s a long story.’’
Irsay, Part 3 (is a veteran QB an option?): “I won’t talk about specific players. I would just say all options are open. We have challenged each other to keep the ancient enemy of rationalization out of the room. The quarterback position, the three of us will make it. We have to. It’s too big of a decision. All options are on the table.
“I’ve never quite seen a year when this was so unusual if you will. It’s exciting. I look at it as a challenge. I don’t look at it as, ‘Oh god, what are we gonna do?’ Not at all. I see a great opportunity and have strong feelings about where this football team can go this decade.’’
The backstory: The team’s starting left tackle for the last nine years revealed he was considering retirement rather than re-up for a 10th season. If he returns, the 2011 first-round draft pick likely would receive a contract worth $14-15 million per season. If Castonzo walks away, Ballard must find his replacement PDQ.
Irsay: “I haven’t talked to Anthony personally. But he’s a Pro Bowl left tackle and we want him to come back. I think there’s a strong likelihood that he will, but I think Chris will have more on that in the coming weeks.
The backstory: The future Hall of Fame kicker not only is coming off the worst season of his 24-year career – 14 missed kicks, including six PATs – but also underwent surgery in December to repair a damaged meniscus and patellar tendon in his left knee. He turned 47 in December and will be an unrestricted free agent March 18.
Irsay: “I know he’s rehabbing that knee and (that’s) something that Chris and Frank will talk about and give their opinions to me. As an owner I occasionally step in, but I like to give my people room to make mistakes. Often, that’s how you learn. Adam knows how much I think of him. He’s unbelievable. We’ll see. He’s in rehab mode now and we’re in the middle of trying to put the team together.’’
The backstory: Mack was the catalyst for a Colts’ running game that ranked 7th in the league and finished with 2,130 yards, their most since 1988. He notched his first 1,000-yard season (1,091), the most by a Colt since Edgerrin James in 2005 (1,506). The 2017 fourth-round draft pick is under contract through 2020, but a recent report mentioned the Colts and Mack’s agent were working on an extension.
Irsay: “Marlon Mack, we love him, but we love the other two guys. We want him back and he wants to be back, really. There were some mis-reports that we were pursuing an extension there. That’s not the case. I don’t know where those came from.’’
And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast: