Now that their star quarterback Andrew Luck has been signed to a 6-year, $140 million deal, the Indianapolis Colts offensive core has been locked up for the foreseeable future–setting up the makings of a potential NFL dynasty.
Consider that along with Luck, tight end Dwayne Allen, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, and center Ryan Kelly are all signed through at least 2019–four seasons from now which is an eternity in today’s NFL where marquee players frequently depart in free agency.
Keeping the core together is something that team owner Jim Irsay knows is of the utmost importance, as it relates to consistently contending for championships:
"“Really important that we retained Dwayne Allen, (Anthony) Castonzo and T.Y. (Hilton),’’ said Jim Irsay via WTTV CBS 4’s Mike Chappell. “Those guys are important pillars for our organization.’’“Some real consideration about making sure we can pay that nucleus of 10-to-12 guys around Andrew (Luck) like it was around Peyton (Manning),’’ added Irsay. “In Peyton’s era, we kept the (Dwight) Freeneys and the (Robert) Mathises and the (Marvin) Harrisons and the (Reggie) Waynes and the Tarik Glenns.’’"
It is for any potential professional sports dynasty.
The New England Patriots had Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, and Tedy Bruschi among others.
The New York Yankees had Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams.
The San Antonio Spurs had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and a veteran David Robinson.
All great players. All homegrown. All kept together.
However, while retaining top talent is key, the Colts also have to make sure that their roster doesn’t become too top heavy. Specifically, that the team accumulates a handful of stars, but doesn’t surround them with a strong enough supporting cast to do anything of significance.
The NFL is still 11 vs. 11 after all, and even though a star of Luck’s magnitude can mask deficiencies of a roster–just like Peyton Manning often did, he can’t do it all alone.
The Colts still need defense after all and a lot of it.
In early October of 2013, Irsay mentioned that the Colts had changed their model and were getting away from the “Star Wars” numbers of the Peyton Manning era of football in order to win multiple titles:
"“We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these,” Irsay told USA TODAY Sports regarding his lone Super Bowl ring. “(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these,” added Irsay. “Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.”“You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times,” concluded Irsay. “You love to have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this (indicating his Super Bowl ring).”"
In order to avoid this result again, which in the grand scheme of things was actually still really good all things considered–lack of multiple championship hardware or not, player development will be key.
With Luck no longer playing on his bargain rookie contract, the Colts do not have the luxury of signing high-priced veteran free agents to patch the roster of its glaring holes anymore.
That means that young, cheap players on their rookie contracts must be able to come in and contribute from the get-go in order to help subsidize the larger contracts of the team’s stars.
The Colts have already placed a greater emphasis on player development by re-tooling their assistant coaching staff, as coaches such as new offensive line coach Joe Philbin must get production out of young players that the Colts had frequently failed at before.
It also means that the Colts have to pick-and-choose their battles as it relates to retaining key members of their core. The team already made tough decisions this offseason, when the Colts let talented tight end Coby Fleener and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman depart in free agency.
They’ve made even tougher decisions before in order to win a championship.
Specifically, the Colts let one of their beloved “triplets”, running back Edgerrin James, go in free agency due to salary cap constraints in 2006. ‘Edge’ was the franchise’s all-time leading rusher in attempts, rushing yards, and touchdowns and remains so to this day.
James signed one of the richest running back deals at the time for 4-year, $30 million with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Colts ended up winning Super Bowl XLI with rookie Joseph Addai as their leading rusher.
There’s clearly a balancing act between retaining star players, while also making sure that there’s enough substance surrounding them to win championships.
After all, the NFL is the ultimate team game…on both sides of the football.
That being said, the Colts made the no-brainer decision of locking up Luck for the long-term.
Did I mention that…
The New England Patriots: Tom Brady
The New York Yankees: Derek Jeter
The San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan
The Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck?
The point being, that Luck not only has the special talent to be among the Colts long-term core, but also to lead them as a once in a generation superstar–much like any of the aforementioned first-ballot Hall of Fame greats.
A rare player who can simply transcend the sport–much like the catalysts of other professional sports dynasties who have come before him.
Hear that? Those are championships calling…
Can Andrew Luck and the Colts core now deliver?