Polian Says Club Busy Despite Not Playing Games
INDIANAPOLIS – It has been five weeks since the club's last game, the Wild Card Playoffs at San Diego. The period following that game has been anything but downtime for the Colts, and the next few weeks will pose challenges as the 2009 off-season ensues.
Issues that confront the Colts and every team include the NFL Combine, the start of the league year in terms of the salary cap, the composition of the roster, veteran free agency and the draft. The chief issue the club addressed since the season ended was the transition of head coaches – from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell. Caldwell succeeded Dungy as field general a little more than a week after the season ended. The transition included the additions of Larry Coyer as defensive coordinator and Ray Rychleski as special teams coordinator.
Since the transition and additions, the coaching and scouting staffs have been immersed in personnel evaluations, both with players on the roster and those who will be involved in the combine and, later on, the draft and collegiate free agency. So how busy has it been?
"Very, about like it always is," said Bill Polian, entering his 12th season as Colts president. "This is a very busy time of the year for those of us on the front office side. We made sure we made the coaching change with as little disruption (in routine) as possible. We accomplished that. Then you have to make roster decisions, and they're always difficult. In many cases, there are no easy answers for those kinds of problems. At the same time, you're getting ready for the draft and free agency. Then, negotiating with people whose contracts are up. There are a lot of balls in the air at the same time…It's been a busy period of time from the day we returned from San Diego until now."
A large part of the time for Polian and his staff involves the approach to veteran free agency and readying to meet the salary cap for the start of the league year next month. The team has high-profile unrestricted free agents like center Jeff Saturday, running back Dominic Rhodes and cornerback Kelvin Hayden. The club is working through its approach to its unrestricted players, but how negotiations proceed and if the use of a franchise tag comes into play remains to be seen. The deadline for clubs to use the tag is February 19.
"We have started talks with Kelvin, and they're slow. That's probably a charitable way to categorize it. That's the linchpin," said Polian. "If that one does not come out satisfactorily for us, and we have to take other measures, then that's (scenario) 'A,' which leads to 'B' and 'C.' We'll see. There's still a long way to go, but I'm not optimistic at this point."
Whether the club can get both Hayden and Saturday signed remains to be seen. "I don't know because I don't know what the final number on Kelvin will have to be," said Polian. Reaching a deal or not, Polian sees Hayden being with the club. "I would think so. It's up to the agent. We're not going to let a good player go out of here because an agent decides he is going to be unreasonable. 'Reasonable' is a relative term. We're playing in their ballpark. I don't know that I will (have to use the tag), but it's clearly on the table."
The Colts long have been a team that retains its players whenever possible. Indianapolis ended last season with nearly 50 players who had played only for the club, including 31 it acquired through the draft. As the NFL's free agency period gets underway on February 27, Polian indicated the club could continue its annual practice of being spectators.
"That would be our choice. We don't think the answers lie there. The results of veteran free agency in the spring don't match up with the results that take place in the real season. We always focus on the real season."
Polian also said the club has made no determination on the return of wide receiver Marvin Harrison. It is possible Harrison could return for a 14th season, and Polian liked what he saw from the NFL's second-leading receiver last season.
"That's (his return) is a function of how we manage the cap…It's entirely possible (that he will return). I can't give you odds on that because I don't know what the numbers ultimately will look like. I suspect we'll go a long way toward the beginning of the league year (later this month) before we have a handle on it. I thought he had a good year (in 2008). By my count, I think we missed five or six touchdowns on deep balls. In some cases, you had a good play by a defender, such as the case in Tennessee. In other cases, Peyton (Manning) could not step up and had to put too much on the ball rather than be able to "touch" it in there. In one case, he was interfered with. But for those five or six plays, statistically it would have looked a whole lot better. But there were explanations for what happened other than for lack of talent, or lack of skill or speed, or whatever you want to call it. If four of those six had connected, it's a great year."
Polian touched briefly on a couple of other areas:
(on what fans will see with new Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer)
"They will see the same system and the same scheme. There always will be adjustments, depending on who the players are. Essentially, we'll be the same scheme with the same types of players and the same approach. Jim Caldwell, when we began discussions last year in terms of how we were going to structure should this (change) come about, made it clear he wanted to retain the same offensive and defensive system. There will be obvious tweaking depending on who the players are, but the broad base of the system will remain the same."
(on the salary cap era penalizing teams that do well)
"Good teams are supposed to be penalized under this system. That's what makes the fact we've been good for so long really rather amazing. The system is designed to prevent that. The system is designed to give the Arizona Cardinals a chance to get to the Super Bowl. It's supposed to weaken the other good teams in the NFC. That's competitive balance. That's what the system is designed to do…The system is designed to prevent good teams from being good for a long time. We're the exception."
(on if a team has to be correct when targeting its key players)
"Absolutely. If you're wrong, you're going to be in dire shape. If you miss on high draft choices and you miss on the players of your own that you decide to pay once they are here, you can't succeed. The cap doesn't forgive and it doesn't forget."
(on the location of the 2009 training camp)
"There is no update. We haven't made any decisions. Like everybody else in this country, expenses are an issue for us. We're looking at every avenue, whether it be team travel, training camp, off-season program. Everything we do, we're trying to be as efficient as we can. There are some areas, such as training camp, where there are glaring inefficiencies. We have to address that. As far making a decision as to where we are going, no, we have not made that, and it's not imminent. That's for certain."