INDIANAPOLIS —Ryan Grigson has been the Indianapolis Colts' general manager since 2012, and since that time, he hasn't shied away from telling it like it is.
This week, he sat down with WTHR's Bob Kravitz, who had a multitude of questions about Grigson's tenure with the Colts — past, present and future.
Grigson stuck with his up-front theme. Asked to evaluate his draft classes, he said he considered the 2012 class — which includes Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton — to be the greatest in team history. The 2013 draft, meanwhile, admittedly had its obvious issues. But the drafts since that time have produced 11 starters for the team, including two deep classes in 2015 and 2016.
Grigson's self-evaluation of his moves in free agency? "Not good enough," he said. But as the franchise continues to win, the Colts will continue to dabble and figure out the best formula possible to make sure they're bringing in the right guys at the right time.
Among other topics, Grigson also discussed his relationship with head coach Chuck Pagano, which, he said, includes brutal honesty on both sides. While disagreements will be had from time to time, Grigson said the two are "unquestionably" "maturing in this thing together."
Here's the full transcript of Kravitz's interview with Grigson, which you can also watch in its entirety below:What is the state of the team right now? Didn't get off to the start you wanted, but I know you're still bullish on this team:
"I am, and we're going into Houston with a chance to be atop our division. I think that speaks volumes, based on where we've been this year in terms of injuries entering the season, in terms of the mistakes we've made. Over those three losses, I felt like we had a chance to to win all three of those games that we lost. So we eked out a win last week; we've got to get better. It's clear. We have to get better, to be able to compete and win in this league for the long haul of the season. But it's a great opportunity we have this weekend."In what areas do you think this team needs to improve to take that next step and put 60 good minutes together?
"Well we have to be able to protect our quarterback better. We've got to be able to do some of the simple things better, which comes down to tackling, seeing stunts and picking up blitzes and things like that — things you can control. But I think a lot of the things have been fundamental that have kept us from finishing games. So I think these things can be ironed out — I really do. But we've got a young defense — we've got a young team, really; I mean about 40 percent are first- or second-year players. We've got to develop some guys, because we are short handed in some respects in some positions right now due to injury or due to a lot of different factors that can hold us back at times, like any team in the league is going to have. So we have to get better in certain areas to be at the top of our game and be able to compete week in and week out."You still feel good about this offensive line — they've given up 20 sacks in five games — but you've got two rookies, and one guy who's basically starting for the first time in Denzelle Good. What are your feelings about the upside of this offensive line?
"Well I think the continuity is something that's so important. We had so many different lineups, so many different musical chairs. I take full responsibility for that. I mean, it's been really tough sledding. Never dreamed it would be this hard to get a line right in all this time. We've swung and missed — I've swung and missed on guys — you know, injuries have played into that. But we feel like we've got our left tackle, Jack (Mewhort) is playing really good football for us, Ryan (Kelly)'s not a rookie in my estimation anymore, Denzelle (Good) has got to clean some things up — he put together 3 1/2 really good quarters last week; he had his spells (and) he's got to iron those things out. A lot of it's just due to the details. And then right tackle, you know, the Joes — they both bring different things to the table. But again, it's continuity, I feel — and I still feel the arrow is up, even with guys like Le'Raven Clark and guys on the back end of that group, I think there's real promise there. And I am real bullish on that group."There's been so much talk about your drafts and free agency. When you look back at your drafts, what's your self-appraisal of your drafts? We know 2012 was a home run; 2013 was a swing and a miss. In a more general sense, how do you self-appraise?
"Self-appraisal, I would say, I always want to bat 1.000, so it's not good enough. I want to hit on every pick. I always think when we pick the guys, that you're going to hit on every last one of them, because based on the grades, based on the talent. There's some underlying factors sometimes, because you're dealing with human beings, sometimes they don't come to fruition and guys don't reach their ceilings and so forth. But if you went just chronologically, 2012 is arguably one of the best drafts in Colts history. I say that with a straight face; I don't know if there is one better. (Is) 2013 as good as 2012 was? You know, it wasn't. But I do include Vontae (Davis) in that group; he was a second-round pick that we used for that draft, and he ended up being our second-most impactful player, I would say, on our team the last five years, I think it's fair to say. But from '14 through '16, we've got 11 starters, and in the last two years, I think we've done really well, and have really nailed the last two drafts. Five starters from 2015, and then, really, the amount of contributors we have, 13 out of 16 picks are playing for us right now in the last two seasons, so definitely feel like we're going in the right direction, and if you look at it in its totality, the one thing always with personnel or what have you is if you're hitting 50 percent of the time, you're doing a good job. I feel like I want to hit a lot more than that, because I feel like we have a great scouting staff, and we're all in this together and it's collaborative effort — with the coaches as well. They're very involved in the process."How do you feel like you've done in free agency?
"Not good enough. A lot of times going in, it is a losing proposition. A lot of times the house does win with free agency, and that's the old adage, and that's something that Jim Irsay's even exclaimed. But I always feel like the onus has always been on winning here, no matter what. It's what our fans expect, it what's our owner expects, and we've done that. So whatever cocktail we've put together, guys haven't panned out, but they have in certain points to help us achieve the wins we have. So would we have liked to have had some more guys — even Erik Walden is still somebody that's got four sacks in this league right now and is up towards the top; he's at 16, I believe, over his career. He's done a really nice job. It's got to be better, and now we're going to have to be a lot more selective with our free agents, and we've got to hit on those guys and make sure they can fit here in a lot of different ways, even just from a locker room standpoint, a character standpoint and so forth. But the other thing, I think, that gets left out of the equation a lot is how our contracts are structured for these free agents. We have a lot of flexibility in the out years, and it keeps us in really good cap health because we've been very disciplined in our approach from a cap sense."How personally difficult has it been for you the past year, year and a half — you've been central to the discussion, obviously as the GM. You've been trashed; we've all written stuff. How have you dealt with it?"I'm going into my fifth year, so I'm learning. I'm learning. I'm a competitive person at heart — I just am — and you try to shut everything out. And I want to be that old-school GM that shuts everything out and is just completely focused on the job at hand, and that's what I've tried my most to do. But it's a different world now, because I like to be in tune with what's happening in our league — free agent wise, guys getting in trouble from other (teams) — I mean, I want to be in the know. So if you're a part of that world, your critics are going to be in your face as well. So I'd be lying if I said I don't hear things. I have a PR department, I have a team of people, I hear people talk. So it's how you handle that information, and I believe in myself. I believe in the process we have here, I believe in my scouts, and I just know that we'll keep winning, because that's what we've done and that's what I know how to do."Is there anything that's been written or said, or a characterization that's been put out there, that it just makes you shake your head and say, 'This is not me; this is not what we've done here?'
"That I'm some, I guess, domineering presence that forces things on people or does this or that. There's a lot of times last year where I felt like … there were flat-out lies told last year and so forth, and that's just me being honest. But I felt like I just had to be focused on my job. It's not my job to take time away from this organization to go out and defend myself personally. I mean, that's not what a GM's (supposed) to do. A GM is supposed to take the bullets. But I'll say this: I don't think it's out of my jurisdiction to call someone on the carpet if something's a lie. So I am very strong in my opinion, I let my opinion be known, and I let it be known what course I think we should take. But it is rare to where I ever say, 'We have to do this,' and it's end of story. It's rare."A lot of talk, obviously, about your relationship with Chuck Pagano. How has it changed, or has it changed at all, since that Monday night after the 2015 season?
"I think with any healthy relationship, in any kind of relationship in life in general, without any argument or disagreement here or there, it can't be healthy. So do we have disagreements on occasion? Yes, we do. Are we both passionate people that can wear our emotions on our sleeve? Yes, we are. Are we, I think, maturing in this thing together? Unquestionably. So I think there's a lot of different ways to skin a cat, and the more you work with somebody and the more you get to know someone, the better way you know to address things in the delivery and so forth. Everyone's different. So I think at the root of everything, the core of everything, if it's always honest and not agenda-driven, and it only has to do with what you feel will get the team the best chance to win — and I might be wrong — but at the same time, you can lay your head on the pillow at night, because an honest man's pillow is his peace of mind, and I feel like you can sleep good at night knowing that, at the end of the day you might be wrong, but maybe a month later, it's like, 'Well, at least he told me what he thought,' and maybe it comes to fruition, and maybe it doesn't. But you've got to be consistent … and that's the culture I try to promote, even with all my staff and my scouts. It's like, we have to have brutal honesty; Chuck preaches brutal honesty to his staff. Because if there's gray areas and there's things that you want to keep below the surface, they're going to end up biting you in the rear at some point. I promise you. So I think my goal as a leader is to really promote the type of environment where it is just honest, and if you have any agenda other than winning — and it's something our owner puts a stamp on: relationships, keeping draft picks in there when they shouldn't be playing; any of those things — that stuff's baloney. And I think we've proven that we don't follow that approach with some of the decisions we've made. You know, it's about winning."You are aware what Reggie Wayne said; what did you think of those remarks?
"I've addressed it. And obviously Reggie is as great of a player as I've ever been around, as great of a pro as I've ever been around. But, again, like I've stated, he's on the other side of the fence now. He's an analyst, and he's going to have his opinion, But again, those are opinions, and that's noise outside the building. It comes down to — it's noise. It's what Coach (Pagano) and I feel about this team, it's us believing in this team, it's those players believing in one another, and it comes down to them making a decision to do what it takes to win on Sunday. And it doesn't have to do with anybody else outside the building. And any team that's ever rallied before and overcome their circumstances, I don't think that there's a better example in the NFL of that than us. And of course I'm biased, but regardless of what adversity we've had — whether it being 2012 with our coach missing nine games with cancer; I mean that's unprecedented. B.A. (Bruce Arians) comes in, does a heck of a job. We've got guys coming in on Tuesdays, I still remember, against Houston: they had everything to gain — home field advantage that year, and we're kind of in that situation a little bit right now on defense; it's bringing guys in, and they have to produce like that. And we did that back then. The Jamaal Westermens, Clifton Geathers — the cousin to Clayton — we've had Deji Karim, who was parking cars a week before, and he has a 103-yard kickoff return to, really, open that game up, in a game that meant everything to them. And then you've had losing Reggie (Wayne), and then you have losing Robert (Mathis) — and huge, key injuries. And then, of course, losing our quarterback in the process. And we still did more when we didn't have our guy than any other team when they didn't have theirs. All those other teams are picking at the top of the draft. So I'm very proud of this organization, proud of these players, proud of what we've done from a coaching standpoint, just working with what we've had in situations where we've might not have had everything that we had hoped for."Defense has obviously been an issue the first five games. You've mentioned that it obviously is difficult when the top of your payroll, so much of it is the top players — with Andrew Luck and Dwayne Allen and Anthony Castonzo and T.Y. Hilton. What can you do with this defense at this point, if anything, and how do you rebuild while the top of the payroll is being used by those top players?
"I think even a way to look at is — I'm being completely transparent of where we are fiscally, the environment we're in when you make those type of investments. Not only signing your own and the huge contracts we did — and that's T.Y. (Hilton), (Anthony) Castonzo, all those guys including our quarterback — you're in a different fiscal environment than you've ever been in before. That's just the facts. That's reality. But we have to be able to, within that environment, we have to be able to hit like no other on the draft; those select free agents that we are able to sign, that we do have the funds to sign, we have to nail them. We expect to. We have to nail the college free agents, we have to get lucky on a couple street free agents like Rashaan Melvin. We've got to be able to hit on those guys. And it is what it is. It's really no different, I think if you look at the past year, Dwight (Freeney) was a part of (those) great teams that were here before us. They had gotten him off a 6-10 season, and then they hit on Robert (Mathis) with a fifth-round pick — we have to be able to do things like that. You know, I have to be able to find those types of players late in the draft, because our resources are shrunk to a degree. I do like always trying to acquire extra picks, and we've been successful doing that in every draft for the most part, so the more picks you get, the better; the more comp picks you get, the better. That gives you health going forward from a big-picture perspective, like the real sound teams do in the NFL. And I want to follow that model. So we have to be great at the draft and all those other parts of it."Will you still be playing football in early January?
"I sure hope so. And I expect to. I think, like I said, we've answered the bell every time, regardless of our circumstances. That goes to show the mettle of our coach and his leadership, because at every turn, whether it's him texting his coaches from a hospital room — things that are Hollywood-ish; things that we've lived through — from overcoming huge personnel issues through injury, we've done it every year. Why not do it again?"