LOCKOUT CONCLUDES AND FOOTBALL RESUMES
INDIANAPOLIS – The message Indianapolis Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay gave during the NFL's labor situation was that he wanted everyone associated with the team to focus on having a successful season and to prepare to face Houston in the opener on September 11.
Now that the lockout has ended and operations begin, his message is the same. The implementation of that message is underway as business matters resume as the 2011 season approaches.
"We have a very close team. It has strong veteran leadership," said Irsay when asked what the message would be to players who arrive on Tuesday. "The message is that we're ready to go to work and get ready for a great season, get ready for Houston and prepare. … The message is, 'It's time to go to work.' It's a great accomplishment to know that we have a 10-year deal which is also really unprecedented in modern sports in these times."
The lockout that started in March and spanned more than four months ended today with the 10-year agreement reached by the league and its players. The resolution left Irsay pleased.
"Obviously, we're really excited and happy we have a real final conclusion in getting something done," said Irsay. "I think the process really worked well. A lot of people worked really hard. Of course, it starts with Roger Goodell and De Smith, players, owners, people with the union, the league office. It was a lot of work, and I think the process delivered really what really we were hoping for, and that is no games missed. … Getting a 10-year deal and having 35 years really of no games missed in the NFL is an incredible accomplishment of a partnership with the players and the owners and everybody involved. I think that's something really in this day and age of full seasons missed. Obviously, in the (19)80s there were some real serious work stoppages. In (19)82, we only played nine games. In (19)87, there were replacement games. So I think that there was a lot of focus on this because there's so much focus on our game. … In truth, I think this process really worked well. Certainly, I think all Colts fans can be especially proud of Jeff Saturday. I know he and I had long talks before the (2010) season had ended and we really talked about going through and having tough negotiations, but really focusing. Me saying to him, 'You'll be working at it. I'll be working at it, but let's get something done and not miss any games. Let's be aware of the fans and our game. What a great job he did, obviously, in representing all players, but certainly the Colts and Indianapolis, Indiana."
With the lockout concluded, Irsay framed the process of the daily interest of the fans and pointed again to having the matter resolved without an interruption in games.
"I think we all owe it to the fans to thank them for the patience," said Irsay. "We certainly understand and apologize for any worrisome aspect that there was really going to be an Armageddon and we were really going to miss a whole season or miss a lot of games. I do think the perspective has to be put into place. I know there's a lot of media coverage and there was a lot of speculation, but when you get a deal done like this before the season starts and you don't have those missed games, I think that's the best you can hope for. You can look around other leagues and see what's happened over the decades. Like I said, having 35 years of no games missed is really unprecedented in (this) modern sports era in America."
With the business of football back at hand, teams will focus on signing players. Quarterback Peyton Manning was tabbed early this year as the franchise player. The move was made when a multiple-year contract agreement could not be reached. Irsay addressed the matter.
"It's (signing Manning) always been the first priority. I think that is a deal that should get done. … I've offered to make him (Peyton) the highest paid player. We know when we look at our team we need people to surround him and to have a chance to win a Super Bowl. … To me, I hope we get something done in the next couple days," he said. "We've been ready. I know I've been ready, and we hope to know for the direction of the franchise. It's really important that we get the deal done so we can plan going forward not only cap-wise but competitively-wise. It is a big priority, and it's something I hope gets done very quickly. Quite frankly, it should get done very quickly. He is going to be the highest paid player. He is going to make more than (Tom) Brady and at the same time under this system, you cannot pay a player $25 million. It's just not going to work. You're not going to be able to compete. I think we have to get something done, and I look forward to doing that."
Manning underwent a neck procedure May and has been recovering. Irsay offered an update.
"I think that he's progressing. These things vary on how quickly (they) progress. Our hope is that he can be ready for Houston," said Irsay. "Our hope is that he's going to keep trending in that direction, to have a great season and to open against Houston to keep his consecutive streak going. It's going to go day-to-day, week-to-week, but there hasn't been any sort of setback. There isn't anything ominous out there about it. The surgery went very well. We have had a chance in the last couple of days to examine him and talk with him. It's a process where he's been a fast healer and he's found a way to get on the field. I'm hopeful that he'll keep progressing and be ready to go when the season opens, meaning that he had plenty of time to prepare and have played football before the opening game."
Indianapolis seeks to continue a period of on-field success that has seen the club produce 10 victories in nine consecutive seasons, the second-longest streak in NFL history. The team has tied the NFL mark with nine consecutive playoff appearances.
This Sunday, Colts will report to training camp at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. The team will hold its first practice on Monday. The club's full practice schedule will be released soon.