The Indianapolis Colts may finally be able to build a football team. With the albatross of former franchise quarterback Peyton Manning‘s contract no longer on the books, Indianapolis may finally be able to build a team that does not rely so heavily on its quarterback.
For years, the Colts were constructed around Manning. The feeling was that as long as he was calling the signals Indianapolis should get Manning whatever he needed to win. If this hurt the defense then fine. If it hurt special teams then fine. Manning was the straw that stirred the drink. Indianapolis would take its chances with him and pay Manning a well deserved kings ransom.
This formula worked as long as Manning stayed healthy. His play hid the team’s weaknesses. If the defense broke down then Manning would just outscore the opponent. If the special teams broke down, Manning would bail them out. If the Colts running game failed, Manning would pass the team to victory.
Then Manning underwent surgery for his neck and missed the entire 2011 season. Indianapolis went 2-14. Head coach Jim Caldwell was fired. The Colts decided that Manning was too much of a physical risk to resign so he was let go. A team that had been a perennial playoff contender for years suddenly had to start over sooner than they would have liked.
Fortunately for Indianapolis, there were some good rookie quarterbacks in the 2012 draft. The top two were Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor. With the number one overall pick the Colts took Luck. He was immediately named the starter.
With Luck as their quarterback and a new coaching staff led by head coach Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis had a clean slate. Some veterans like wide receiver Reggie Wayne, defensive end Dwight Freeney and defensive end Robert Mathis were kept. Others, like wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Dallas Clark, were let go. The Colts went about streamlining and building a team that could grow with Luck.
If 2012 is any indication, Indianapolis is off to a good start. The Colts are 5-3 at the midway point. This is more than twice as many games as they won in 2011. Luck is proving that he is the real deal. He led a furious comeback in a victory over the Green Bay Packers. Against the Miami Dolphins he set a rookie record by passing for 433 yards.
It was assumed that Indianapolis would struggle while Luck grew into his role as quarterback and team leader. Instead, the Colts have been competitive in all of their games and have a good chance of making the playoffs.
Indianapolis seems poised to return to championship contention as well. Now that the team has money to spend they can get the pieces necessary to help Luck win. They can also structure a team that does not have to rely solely on its quarterback.
It may not have seemed possible when Manning was let go, but the Colts may be in better shape without him than they were with him.