Jim Irsay Gets His Man

Nate Dunlevy talks about new Colts GM Ryan Grigson.

In the transcript of Ryan Grigson’s press conference, two words jump out over and over:




The two words nicely frame the hire. A day after the Colts announced their new GM, fans have nothing more to latch on to concerning the near future of the team than they did before. The Colts hired a young unkown who will work hard and be listening to the owner of the team.

Grigson has several things working for him that would make him an excellent hire.

  • A background in college scouting. The Colts were primarily concerned with getting a guy with experience on the college scouting side, rather than pro-player personnel. They wanted a draft guy and they got one.
  • The Eagles dominated the Draft Project in recent years. Grigson didn’t have final say in draft issues, but it’s hard to argue with the Eagles success. In draft efficiency, they ranked 5th from 2002-2009 and 2nd from 2005-2009 (behind Indianapolis, ironically enough), but they also finished 3rd in total value from 2005-2009. So whatever system the Eagles have been using to evaluate players, it has been paying off. If Irsay wanted to hire a guy from a team that drafts well, he literally couldn’t have done better than he did with Grigson.
  • He’s young. Young should mean open to new ideas and concepts. No one asked Grigson about his football philosophy, but with any luck he embraces new ways of thinking about the game, especially in regards to punting.
  • He’s from Indiana. That doesn’t mean he’ll be a good general manager, of course. It does mean that he should carry with him an inherent understanding of the culture of the area. Never underestimate the subtitle value of cultural awareness.

Grigson brings with him a raft of questions, however.

  • The one word he didn’t say in the transcript: Manning. Can you imagine, a new GM in Indianapolis, and he never once said Peyton Manning’s name?
  • Grigson laid no clear vision at all for where the Colts are going. That doesn’t mean, of course, that he doesn’t have one. Yesterday was his chance to stand up declare from day one a course, a path of action to restore the Colts to glory. Instead, he brushed off the hard questions saying, “I just got here”. He repeated Jim Irsay’s name almost compulsively despite the fact that only one of the questions really centered on Irsay. I’m not saying that Grigson is a puppet. I am saying this is a young guy who knows very clearly who the boss is. Who is really making the calls in Indy?
  • He comes from a team with a history of big free agent signings that haven’t worked out all that well. He freely admits he doesn’t have a lot of experience in cap manipulation. At a time when the Colts are facing serious cap issues, does Grigson have the ability to navigate these waters? The free agency issue won’t come up this year. The Colts don’t have the cap space to sign anyone note. It could be a huge problem in 2013, however. Fans will love it, but it’s not a sound way to build a team.
  • What did he learn about game management from watching Andy Reid? Did he learn it’s not important? Andy Reid is an awful game manager. One of the worst in football. He makes Caldwell look like Belichick. Or did he learn that the Eagles lost a lot of games because Reid couldn’t figure out how to use timeouts?
  • Who will be the next coach? We know nothing more about Jim Caldwell’s future today than we did yesterday. As much as I believe Caldwell needs to go, if the other option is a retread like Marty Mornhinweg, I’d rather have Caldwell. There are no good high profile coaches out there. The Colts may stick with Caldwell simply because there’s a lack of better options out there.
  • The most important question of all remains to be answered: is he a good GM? We know he’s a good scout. That’s an outstanding start. We have literally no idea if this guy can run an NFL team.

The best thing that Grigson has going for him is that the whole city is invested in his success. The fans obviously want a winner, but the media does too. If Grigson struggles in the job, a lot of people are going to have egg on their face. Grigson is a good hire within the confines of what the Colts were looking for. He’s not a top tier candidate. He’s young and inexperienced in his current position but has a strong resume of talent evaluation. Colts fans couldn’t reasonably hope for any more from the new GM.

He’s not going to be the voice and face of the franchise the way Bill Polian was. That’s Jim Irsay’s job now. In the short run, we’ll get lots of articles about what a refreshing change Grigson is to the Polians. That will buy Grigson a lot of time in Indy, but eventually the Colts will have to start winning.

Grigson is going to get a lot of rope, and will probably get a free pass on most of the decisions to be made this year, especially if Caldwell stays. It’s clear from Irsay’s long answer to a simple question of who will be making the final decisions that his voice will be prominent in whatever happens.

Grigson may be part of a new wave of younger GMs who will transform football’s antiquated and indefensible obsession with conservative play by building a dynamic team. At worst, he’ll do what Jim Irsay tells him to do while helping the Colts draft well. As worst case scenarios go, that one isn’t too bad.

Ryan Grigson is Jim Irsay’s man. The Third Era of Irsay will be defined by how he grows into the role of GM and just how much of Irsay’s man he turns out to be.