While too much will be made on his treatment of members of the Indianapolis Colts organization, it was actually Ryan Grigson‘s failed first round picks and free agent signings that led to team owner Jim Irsay finally firing his former general manager.
Don’t get me wrong, when current and former players such as Pat McAfee and Reggie Wayne–among other players share their displeasure with someone using strong words, that definitely carries some significant weight.
So does a consistent breakdown in communication between both Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano—enough to require the consultation of psychologists.
However, those issues likely played only a small role in Irsay’s overall decision-making.
If the Colts had made the playoffs in either of the past two seasons, my calculated guess is that Grigson would still be the general manager in Indianapolis.
Winning seems to cure all woes, and Irsay would’ve been hard-pressed to fire a young general manager, who made the playoffs in four of his first five seasons–highlighted by an AFC Championship Game appearance in 2014.
Instead, the Colts finished 8-8–missing the playoffs for a consecutive season for the first time in the franchise’s history since 1997-98, while finishing 3rd in the worst division in football.
It was enough for Irsay to pause, contemplate the decline of his team, and finally make a change.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter that Grigson may have sauntered around the Colts headquarters acting like the ‘big bad wolf’, huffing and puffing–threatening to evict the resident pigs during his tenure in Indianapolis.
At the end of the day, Grigson–like any other general manager should be evaluated largely on his NFL Draft selections and free agent signings.
Former Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian wasn’t always a ball of sunshine and rainbows to be around by members of the Colts organization, but until late in his tenure, his pristine track record of 1st round picks and overall selections spoke for itself–which included a number of future Hall of Fame caliber players.
As it stands, two of Grigson’s five first round picks were busts: pass rusher Bjoern Werner (2013) and the Trent Richardson trade of a 2014 first round pick–with another first round pick potentially joining them soon, Phillip Dorsett (2015), who underwent an underwhelming 2nd-year season.
Meanwhile, prospects he passed on such as cornerback Xavier Rhodes, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and center Travis Frederick have become Pro Bowlers elsewhere from the 2013 NFL Draft Class, while safety Landon Collins‘ name still stings from the 2015 NFL Draft class respectively.
Additionally, he has no members of the 2013 NFL Draft class even on the Colts 53-man active roster.
As Grigson’s offensive line and defense continued to struggle year-after-year, there was a question of whether the inexperienced general manager was investing enough early round draft picks into either and thereby providing the Colts coaching staff with clear talent to work with on the field.
In Grigson’s first four seasons in Indianapolis, he invested just one early round draft pick, Jack Mewhort, who was a 2014 2nd round pick into the offensive line–despite starting quarterback Andrew Luck routinely taking a pounding from his poor pass protection.
He whiffed on former center Khaled Holmes with a 4th round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and it wasn’t until the 2016 NFL Draft that he invested a pair of early round draft picks into the offensive line: starting 1st round center Ryan Kelly (a keeper) and 3rd round offensive tackle Le’Raven Clark (a project).
Switching to defense, in Grigson’s last 5 draft classes, only 4 of the team’s 14 players (28.6%) selected in the first three rounds of each respective year total have actually been on defensive players.
Otherwise, things fared worse for Grigson in free agency.
Failed free agent signings such as offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, outside linebacker Trent Cole, defensive lineman Ricky-Jean Francois, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, offensive guard Todd Herremans, inside linebacker Nate Irving, wide receiver Andre Johnson, defensive lineman Art Jones, safety LaRon Landry, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, center Samson Satele, offensive guard Donald Thomas, and cornerback Greg Toler had been far too many–with last year’s big signee Patrick Robinson soon potentially joining this lengthy list after an injury-plagued debut season.
It doesn’t mean that Grigson’s tenure was ‘all bad’, as he did select quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Dwayne Allen, offensive guard Jack Mewhort, wide receiver Donte Moncrief, defensive end Henry Anderson, safety Clayton Geathers, and center Ryan Kelly–with rookies Joe Haeg and Hassan Ridgeway potentially joining this list soon.
Maybe even David Parry.
Not to mention, a 2012 trade for cornerback Vontae Davis, which he never rightfully received enough credit for.
He also hit on some limited free agents including defensive end Cory Redding, inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, cornerback Darius Butler, safety Mike Adams, tight end Jack Doyle, running back Frank Gore, defensive end Kendall Langford, and even more recently, cornerback Rashaan Melvin.
However, looking at the complete body of work, he built an offensive line that continued to struggle in pass protection (even if it flashed promise late last season)–having been hurt by numerous failed veteran free agent signings:
"Sep 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is sacked by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports“Specifically, the Colts allowed the 5th most sacks with 44 total sacks and the 2nd most QB hits at 128 total QB Hits this past season, while Luck remained one of the most pressured passers in the NFL.”"
Meanwhile, the defense continues to remain devoid of impact players outside of Davis, Geathers, and Anderson. In fact, it’s a fair question of how many defensive starters from last year’s unit will even be starters for the Colts three years from now.
My guess is not many.
Grigson’s defenses have ranked 22nd at 24.5 avg. ppg (2016), 25th at 25.5 avg. ppg (2015), 19th at 23.1 avg. ppg (2014), 9th at 21.0 ppg (2013), and 21st at 24.2 ppg (2012) among all of the league’s teams–consistently ranking at least in the bottom half of the league.
Some of that could be on the coaching staff, injuries, and players simply not performing up to expectations–particularly along the offensive line and on defense.
If this were Year 2 or 3 too, such mistakes may have been swept under the rug, but the fact is that this was set to be Year 6 under Grigson–which is a lifetime in the NFL.
Yet, the same deficiencies that have plagued the Colts in recent seasons–namely pass protection and the defense continue to be major problem areas for the team.
No one can bake an award-winning cake with inferior ingredients and that’s on who’s buying the groceries–namely Grigson.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that Grigson may have been ‘mean’ or rubbed some members of the Colts organization the wrong way.
It comes down to winning games.
It comes down to his failed draft selections and free agent signings which led to a diminished on the field product–ultimately costing the Colts games:
"“However, we’re in the business of professional football, and that’s the business of winning,” said Jim Irsay at one point during Saturday’s press conference. “It’s about winning and you do everything you can to make sure you’re in a position to win, period.”"
In that regard, Grigson simply wasn’t good enough.