PHOENIX — Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay talked to reporters Tuesday at the NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix. What were the top takeaways from his session with the media?
» Irsay is very encouraged about the state and direction of the franchise: Last year at the owners meetings, Irsay talked about entering what he considered Year 1 of a three-year rebuilding process to get to where he believed the team would once again be among the best of the best in the NFL. Fast forward 365 days, and the Colts have accelerated that process greatly after a 10-6 season and a road win in the playoffs. A healthy, elite quarterback and one of the better draft classes in recent memory are huge factors in the rise, Irsay acknowledged, but the Frank Reich effect and his "one-day-at-a-time" approach was clearly instrumental, as well. "You always just felt that this team was going to play to win and was going to succeed and get it done. You just had this almost quiet certainty that you felt," Irsay said. "I just felt even when we weren't winning a lot of games early on that, you know what, this team can. And I think it can this year. And we have enough games. It's going to be tough but we have enough games. If we get on a run we can do it. … The arrow keeps pointing up."
» Chris Ballard's roster-building process — and patience — has been impressive: The Colts have continued to employ a methodical approach to all aspects of adding talent to the roster under general manager Chris Ballard, something Irsay has been impressed with. While it's not always easy to ignore the lure of going out and spending a ton of money during the first couple days of free agency, when literally billions of dollars are being spent league-wide, Irsay can clearly see and appreciate what Ballard is trying to accomplish: build through the draft, and use free agency to supplement the rest of the roster and make the occasional splash when the situation is right. Irsay said a couple weeks back, when free agency was beginning and players were flying off the market, the Colts were in negotiations with a big-name player that he was in favor of signing, but once the dollar number got to a certain point, Ballard had no qualms about backing out. "He was telling me who he was in the battle with, with the agent stuff, and I said, 'Hey, you go get him.' I want to give (Ballard) unfettered approval saying, 'You be aggressive and I got no problem with that. Let's get this guy with a horseshoe on his helmet and get him in our camp.' And he still backed back, backed down and said, 'You know, they went to this number and I just couldn't Jim. I just couldn't.' … Chris has done a great job in just patiently evaluating talent. You know when free agency hit, we had the lines in the water on several other guys and we didn't get them. We could've got them, but Chris is very disciplined in his belief on how you build a team and it was great to see him stick by him discipline."
» The team could explore the possibility of re-signing some of its own players perhaps earlier than usual: The Colts have several key players entering contract years in 2019, guys like left tackle Anthony Castonzo, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron and cornerback Kenny Moore II. A huge aspect of Ballard's roster-building process is retaining and taking care of the players who have grown in your system, and with plenty of cap room remaining, Irsay hinted at the fact that extensions with some players could be getting done maybe a little earlier than they usually would. "We had some really important signings and we feel that we still have cap room left," Irsay said. "There's still the ability to do some work, and we're going to look at our roster for possible player extensions, a few maybe even a little earlier than normal, but always keep our minds open to a free agent that might come up unexpectedly. So we're continuing to work the progress and work solutions in the offseason to get better." Ballard later told reporters that those signings could possibly happen in the few months following the draft.
» Once a "concern and focus," Andrew Luck's availability is no longer a storyline: Unable to work his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, Andrew Luck had to sit out the entire 2017 season and try to recalibrate his rehab and recovery process to ensure he'd be good to go for 2018. Luck, of course, did just that, turning in perhaps his best-overall performance in his career, and earning NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors for his efforts. The chat with Irsay on Tuesday was a far cry from his owners meetings availability a year ago, when the team was certainly optimistic about Luck's return, but didn't quite know exactly when that would be. Currently, Luck is focusing solely on football, and not his shoulder — which is music to Irsay's ears. "Boy, it was really a concern and focus and a reason to have some sleepless nights. But the fact that he's doing this well is just tremendous because we know that that position," Irsay said. "It was all rehab, rehab, rehab, but this offseason we finally have a chance to work on some football things. And things that can make him just a better quarterback. And he's excited about that because he doesn't have to have that ultra-uber focus on just the health of his right shoulder. So I look to see Andrew continue to ascend. And he's our leader and he's a guy that we're just really proud to have as our quarterback and our guy that we have so much faith in that can get it done for us. And it's tremendous not to have to think about that man. I mean, trust me, honestly, it was a tough road for everyone, mostly for him. And that's the reason this past season was really a great ... It was really exciting that Andrew could experience that."
» Peyton's Future? Irsay was also asked about the future of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, who continues to see a variety of job opportunities and offers come his way. Irsay revealed that back in 2016, he had discussions with Manning about the possibility of joining the Colts in a team executive-type role, but that Manning — who had just retired the previous season — decided he wanted be able to spend more time with his family before diving all-in to a job like that.