Colts Prepared for Uncertainty of NFL's 2010 Offseason
INDIANAPOLIS – Looking ahead, Bill Polian said there certainly is uncertainty.
Polian, entering his 13th season as the Colts' President said when it comes to the 2010 offseason, it's hard to yet know exactly the storylines and exactly the issues. Such is the nature of the Collective Bargaining Agreement under which the NFL and NFL Players operate.
But while that's true, Polian said this is, too:
Whatever the scenario, whatever the circumstance, the Colts will be prepared.
And in fact, they already are.
"We have to wait until we get specific instructions from Management Council," Polian said late last week while addressing the media to wrap up the 2009 season, which for the Colts ended with a 31-17 loss to New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV on February 7.
"We have a plan for every contingency, but as for details, I don't have any details yet."
The NFL and the NFL Players Association have until March 5 to reach an agreement on the CBA. If they do not, the league will operate in an "uncapped" year rather than under the salary-cap structure under which it has operated since 1993.
Polian declined comment on the specifics of the CBA negotiations.
"That is in the hands of competent negotiators on both sides of the table," Polian said. "I have no idea if there will or will not be an agreement prior to March 5. We've prepared for both scenarios. I'm not going to conjecture as to what may or may not happen, other than to tell our fans that we are prepared no matter what happens."
As it is, Polian said planning will continue for free agency, the April NFL Draft and the offseason, with one of the first steps being to work with coaches and personnel officials to analyze the roster.
Only then, Polian said, will the Colts have a firm idea of their offseason strategy.
"We haven't done our analysis yet," he said. "What people may perceive as needs when we finish our analysis may not be what people think they are. The dispassionate, video-based analysis, which to us is the most imant process, has not begun."
The Colts enter the second half of February with middle linebacker Gary Brackett an unrestricted free agent, and with players such as safety Antoine Bethea, offensive tackle Charlie Johnson and cornerback Marlin Jackson potentially facing restricted free-agency status depending on the CBA. Polian said re-signing Brackett is a priority "because there's no ambiguity about his status."
"We can approach that rather quickly," he said. "In every other situation, we have to wait until Management Council tells us what the status of various players may or may not be."
Polian added of Brackett, "He's a very good player. He's a leader and he's a guy we'd like to get signed. We'll make every effort to get that done. There's no guarantee with unrestricted free agency that we will do it, but we'll make every effort to get it done."
While Polian said the extended playoff run changes little for the Colts' front office, he said the offseason will change – if only slightly – for the players. The Colts' offseason conditioning program started in mid-March last year, a date that Polian said will be later this season.
"We will give them very much more time off," Polian said. "I don't have an exact day on the beginning of the offseason program, but it will be significantly later than we did it a year ago. Keep in mind that even though we've gone five weeks (in the post-season), we're used to going three, four, etc. It's been a matter of course for quite some time. We'll adjust the calendar accordingly. From their standpoint, we'll recognize that they've done a lot of playing.
"When you approach it from a standpoint of how many quarters have they played – that's the delineating factor. The fellows who have played a lot of quarters, especially younger players, you're going to cut back on what you do with them in the offseason. For guys who have not played a lot, then you approach it a little bit differently, but they all need time to rest. We'll give them that."
The Colts this past season finished 14-2, the NFL-record seventh consecutive season they have won 12 or more games in a season. They have done so despite a free-agency system under which many contending teams lose front-line players and struggle for long-term consistency.
"We have an owner (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer Jim Irsay) who is committed to winning 365 days a year, no matter what the circumstance," Polian said. "It starts there. Secondly, we've had great coaching throughout the tenure here. Third, we've had a personnel staff that has had very little turnover and that has done a remarkable job. We've got great fans who support us through thick and thin. As a result, if you put all of those together and you have a quarterback like Peyton and you have key players at other positions who perform at an extremely high level, you can succeed.
"It is, in many ways, counterintuitive to what the system is designed to do, but we've been able to weather those storms and, by and large, remain excellent for a long period of time. We've been fortunate that with one exception Peyton has not been injured and while many of our starters have been injured at certain times, they have been there, by and large, throughout. That's a good thing."
Polian on Friday also praised Jim Caldwell, who in his first season as the Colts' head coach became the fifth rookie head coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
"He stepped in and put his mark on his team in terms of how he wanted the offseason structured and in terms of how he wanted practice structured, how he approached training camp and how he wanted to approach practice and preparation during the regular season," Polian said. "They were not major deviations from what (former Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) did but they were significant enough – including a change in defensive style – that the players understood it was going to be done Jim Caldwell's way.
"He made that clear. He was consistent in his approach. They recognized it, they respected it and they responded to it."