Colts know restoration project not finished yet


Colts know restoration project not finished yet

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Jim Irsay's decisions seem so logical now.

A year ago, he wanted new blood in the front office and on the sideline. He needed a plan for the future, and he had to clear a spot for a new franchise quarterback to grow, even if it meant cutting Peyton Manning.

Longtime Indianapolis fans and hordes of critics thought Irsay was crazy to turn the page on one of the most successful runs in league history and start completely over. But after one of the most remarkable one-year turnarounds in NFL history, all those moves may prove to be the future model for major rebuilding projects around the league.

``I didn't want to flip it because I like continuity,'' he told The Associated Press this week. ``It was just, it needed to change. No one wanted to see or realize that it was over. But it was over.''

What Irsay could see so clearly then was the sun setting on the Manning era in Indy. If he wanted to give Indianapolis another decade to remember, he had to rebuild while he had the chance.

Buried under salary cap limitations and having to contend with more frequent injuries to aging stars, Irsay knew Indy wasn't just getting older - it was sliding further and further from the Super Bowl. The Colts had gone from 14-2 in their 2009 AFC championship season to 10-6 and a first-round playoff exit in 2010 to 2-14 and the No. 1 overall pick last season.

So in the NFL's version of a blink, Irsay made a clean, abrupt break with the past.

``It was just an incredible year,'' Irsay said. ``It's one of those things that I think 15, 20 years from now, people will look at the way we reorganized our team and what we did and I can see where there might be an owner asking a GM that question about turning it around that fast and the GM will say that's too unrealistic to think about. And I can see the owner saying, `Well, the Colts did it.'''

Duplicating what the Colts did in 2012 may be nearly impossible, though.

After losing coach Chuck Pagano for 12 weeks as he battled leukemia, Indy went 9-3 under interim coach Bruce Arians and made its first playoff appearance without Manning since 1996. The nine-win improvement, to 11-5, was better than all but two teams in NFL history - the 1998 Colts and the 2008 Dolphins, who each won 10 more games than the previous season.

Andrew Luck delivered one of the best rookie seasons by any NFL quarterback and the newcomers produced more combined yards rushing and receiving than any rookie class since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. They did all that with a completely new offense, a shortened offseason program and a quarterback who really only got about two weeks to work with his teammates before training camp opened.

That's why Irsay believes it's only a start.

``I think if you go out and win six games with a rookie quarterback, that's a hell of a year when you're comparing it to Peyton's 3-13 or Cam Newton's 6-10,'' Irsay said. ``Winning 11 games and beating the Texans, who had so much to play for that last week, that was literally like winning a playoff game.''

Irsay knows the team still needs more help protecting Luck and more play-makers on defense. And if general manager Ryan Grigson does as well in this year's draft as last year's and spends wisely in free agency - the Colts are projected to be more than $40 million under the cap - Indy could be a significantly stronger club in 2013.

In some ways, all this is familiar to Irsay.

When he walked off the field at Minnesota in the 1997 season finale, Irsay knew he'd be choosing which of the two presumed franchise quarterbacks available, Manning and Ryan Leaf, he would take with the No. 1 pick. He cleared the way by firing general manager Bill Tobin, coach Lindy Infante and trading Jim Harbaugh, known as Captain Comeback, to Baltimore.

Fourteen years later, Irsay walked off the field in Jacksonville in a familiar predicament. Again he had the No. 1 overall pick and again he was choosing between two presumed franchise quarterbacks, Luck and Robert Griffin III. And again he fired his front office leaders, Bill and Chris Polian, and coach Jim Caldwell, and then let Manning go.

Irsay knew then it was the right thing to do - not the easy thing - no matter what anyone else thought.

``It was a year that took a toll on me. It was terribly emotional with Peyton and everything that went on here,'' Irsay said. ``We just realized it was better for him to go to a veteran team that had won a playoff game and it was better for us to try and get a new era started. We both didn't like it. But we knew it was in the best interests of everyone involved.

``It was unfortunate that the chess board shifted. But I felt it was necessary to start again and really have that total change come about. It was no different than 1998.''

Irsay pleaded with fans to be patient, reminding them that Manning won only three games as a rookie, made the playoffs in his second season, didn't win a playoff until Year 6 and didn't bring home the Lombardi Trophy until after the 2006 season.

Turns out, the Colts didn't need patience.

They just needed Irsay to make the tough calls and stick to his convictions.

``The way the chess board lined up for us couldn't have been worse as (last) season wound down,'' Irsay said. ``I walked out of that locker room in Jacksonville and it just couldn't have been tougher. So when you look back at this season, you take so much pride in what you were able to do. I am just amazed at what we accomplished.''

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division


Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and there is still a lot to be decided.

The Metropolitan Division is going to come right down to the wire as each team seemingly continues to win and put the pressure on the first place Capitals.

With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, the playoff matchups for the first round of the NHL playoffs are still up in the air with only five points separating the top four teams in the Metro. Washington is in good position with a four-point cushion between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins. With both teams meeting on April 1, however, the Caps are still a long way off from clinching the division and earning home ice in the first round.


Metropolitan Division
1. Washington (93 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
W1. Philadelphia (88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

2. Pittsburgh (89 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
3. Columbus (89 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay (106 points, 74 GP, 45 ROW)
W2. New Jersey (82 points, 73 GP, 32 ROW)

2. Boston (100 points, 72 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Toronto (95 points, 74 GP, 37 ROW)

Still in the hunt:
Florida (81points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)


Washington has won only one out of four games against the Philadelphia Flyers this season. That's not an ideal first-round matchup for Washington, but there is still time for the Flyers to climb and overtake Columbus or Pittsburgh in the standings..

What seems unlikely to happen is for New Jersey or Florida to pass Philadelphia. While things remain close near the top of the standings, there seems to be a growing divide between the top-four teams in the Metropolitan Division and the two teams battling for the final remaining spot in the playoffs.

The Flyers may be in fourth place in the division, but they still boast a healthy six-point lead over the Devils who sit in the second wild card.

If we assume New Jersey and Florida will not be able to climb to any postseason position, but the second wild card, that makes the three most likely candidates to face Washington in the first round Pittsburgh, Columbus and Philadelphia.

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, March 23, 34 days before the NFL draft.  

Stability at the top of the depth chart

A Redskins defense that ranked 27th in total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16th overall and 27th running the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year.

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes.

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger.

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical, he is much more likely to land on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins.

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose.

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft.

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard.

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is such thing as having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year.

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries.

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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In response to a tweet about this article that said that the Redskins led the league in losing important players in injuries:


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 25
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 127
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 171

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