INDIANAPOLIS — Think the Indianapolis Colts have nothing to play for on Sunday?
Sure, the team was officially eliminated from postseason contention last week, when the Houston Texans earned the AFC South Division crown for a second straight season, but for each player on the 46-man active roster Sunday, when the Colts take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, the game serves as a final opportunity to gain some positive momentum heading into the offseason.
That's how Colts general manager Ryan Grigson views Sunday's game, at least.
For Grigson, the game against the Jaguars is the first time in his five seasons with the organization that the Colts aren't at least in contention for a spot in the playoffs. But that shouldn't change the team's approach, whatsoever.
"We're going to look hard at it from an evaluation standpoint across the board, and it's the last bit of tape that every one of these guys has going into the offseason," Grigson said. "And what do the coaches look at, what do I look at, what do all the scouts look at — we watch all the games and evaluate the roster, and then we formulate a plan in the offseason as to what we what we need to fill in some of the cracks."
All offseasons for all teams feature at least some roster turnover, but by playing well against the Jaguars, a player can at the very least earn himself added consideration to be viewed as a valuable asset on the 2017 roster.
"Sometimes if a guy is showing that he's trending in that right direction and he follows up a good performance with another good one, or shows some consistency that he's going the right way, then that leaves a little bit of a lasting impression on everybody," Grigson said. "To the actual player and their livelihood, I think that that's something that's important, that they put out good tape in this last game and get better than they were the (previous) game."
And while Grigson and his staff is certainly focusing on the present and Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium, they continue to keep their eye on the future.
With the calendar turning from 2016 to 2017 on Sunday, the NFL Draft is now officially less than four months away — or 116 days away, to be exact — and the team's scouts and personnel officials have been working hard to make sure the team makes the right picks come April 27.
Grigson said his job throughout the year, especially during the season, is to balance the importance of keeping the current 53-man roster as solid as it can be while also making sure the team's future is in good hands.
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"The draft is always within arm's reach, I believe, for any general manager or an organization because it's a lifeblood, and it's more vital than ever for us," Grigson said. "It's an involved process, and it's one that you've always got to have a pulse on, because every bit of information you get can only help you make a better decision when that day comes."
That approach certainly paid off last year, when the Colts turned their eight-player draft haul — as well as a solid group of undrafted free agents — into one of the more used groups of rookies in the NFL.
Going into Sunday's game, rookies have accounted for 44 total starts for the Colts in the first 15 games of the 2016 season, a figure that ranks tied for the fifth most in the NFL.
That number is magnified even more when it comes to the Indianapolis offensive line, which has seen rookies contribute more starts (31) than any other offensive line in the league.
As with any group of first-year players, the Colts' rookies have taken some time to hit their stride as professional players. But Grigson said the group has really come along in recent weeks, especially those rookie offensive linemen, three of whom have earned starting jobs and have gone the past two weeks without allowing a single sack of quarterback Andrew Luck.
It's the first time in Luck's 69 games as the Colts' quarterback that he's gone consecutive games without being sacked.
"I think it never was pretty early on; they all had some baptism through fire," Grigson said. "But we'll be better for it in the long run, and this organization will — and Andrew (Luck) will. So I think we've got that in a really good spot. The depth there, the guys that are playing now, it looks like a pretty good darn good group — no sacks the last two games, we're showing the ability to move people off the football.
"I think that the more continuity they get, it's going to be a really good offensive line," Grigson continued. "But it was a learning year for them. I mean, there's a lot of bumps along the way — sometimes those equate to contributing to a loss. They're painful and they're bitter, but they are good lessons to learn for the future."