In January of 1998, the Green Bay Packers faced off against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. The defending-champion Packers were 11-point favorites, but trailed most of the game.
As time became scarce, Packers’ defensive leader Eugene Robinson huddled his teammates on the sideline for a pep talk. Robinson exclaimed,
“We are playing the Indianapolis Colts right now. This team is not better than us. They’re not even good!”
The Packers rallied, but ultimately lost. The interesting part of Robinson’s motivational speech was how he pejoratively compared the Broncos to the Colts, the worst team in football that season. But a few months later, the Colts drafted Peyton Manning number one overall, and their fortune quickly changed.
A franchise quarterback is probably the most important position in all of sports. Teams that have them perennially compete in the playoffs. Teams that don’t have them perennially select high in the draft.
Peyton Manning turned the Colts from the worst team in the league to one of the best teams in the league for over a decade. Manning led the Colts to their first Super Bowl win since the 1970-71 season.
Prior to the 2011 season, Manning had neck surgery and missed the entire year. The Colts went from a playoff team back to the dregs of the league before Manning had rescued them from in 1998. The Colts went 2-14 and once again at the number one overall pick.
Enter Andrew Luck.
The Colts serendipitously transitioned from one can’t-miss franchise quarterback to the next. Luck immediately proved to be the phenom he was touted to be; the Colts made a 9-win improvement and marched into the playoffs.
But since then, Colts management has done a horrible job at surrounding Luck with talent.
In 2013, the Colts selected Florida State defensive end, Bjoern Werner. He only had 6.5 sacks in years before washing out of the league.
In 2014, the Colts didn’t have a first-round pick because they traded it to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson, a colossus bust who’s currently not on a roster.
In 2015, the Colts used their first-round pick on Phillip Dorsett, a small, speedy receiver whose skill set is redundant with their top target T.Y. Hilton. Dorset has made little impact thus far.
The defense hasn’t fared any better, and Colts’ general manager Ryan Grigson blamed the porous defense on…Andrew Luck.
“When you pay Andrew what we did (5 years, $122 million), it’s going to take some time to build on the other side of the ball.”
Per an ESPN report:
“It’s a quote that reveals a lot of what has gone wrong in Indianapolis. Blessed with the one thing every bad team desperately chases — a superstar quarterback on a rookie contract — Grigson squandered his opportunity and failed to build even a functional team around Luck. Now, having failed to do so, Grigson somehow blames Luck. When you look at the decisions Grigson has made over the past few years, you see a pattern of an executive with too much faith in his ability to evaluate personnel. The one thing that has kept Grigson afloat, ironically, is the quarterback who fell into his lap with the first overall pick.”
Grigson’s most egregious shortcoming has been in developing the offensive line to protect his most valuable asset.
Since the Colts drafted Luck in 2012, they’ve allowed the following number of hits on the quarterback: 116, 109, 107, 118, and 128. Those numbers rank them second-worst, third-worst, fourth-worst, second-worst, and second-worst, respectively.
ESPN analyst and Hall-of-Fame-worthy offensive lineman Mark Schlereth said of the Colts’ offensive line, “To call them average would be an insult to average.”
Luck has taken a beating behind a porous offensive line, and as a result, he missed half of the 2015 season with a shoulder injury.
If the Colts don’t add pieces quickly, Luck’s injuries could pile up, and he could begin to pick up bad habits such as skittishness in the pocket, and forcing the ball when he shouldn’t.
David Carr’s career was ruined in this exact fashion after succumbing to a relentless beating behind an abysmal offensive line with the expansion of the Houston Texans.
Colts fans should pray they don’t get that unlucky.