A former colleague used to say, “You have to be part crazy to play in the NFL.”
At any moment, your career could end. Your body might never be the same, especially when you’re older. Guys are running full speed and fearlessly slamming into each other, all for the pursuit of fame, fortune and a Super Bowl ring.
If that’s true, imagine what life must be like for an NFL general manager. I’m thinking of Colts GM Ryan Grigson.
Grigson has to be part crazy, too, just to do his job.
Your every move is scrutinized to death by a diehard fan base. You have to make difficult decisions each week, some guys going, new ones coming. You have to manage the salary cap. Don’t get me started on comprehending general math, let alone this.
Even when you think you’ve got all the bases covered, here comes the next curveball. Regardless of what you do, people will be convinced you’re an idiot.
Nice gig. Where do I sign up?
Think about all the twists and turns he’s faced in a short time. Three games into his tenure, head coach Chuck Pagano is diagnosed with leukemia. The team endures. Your second draft isn’t as productive as the first, but how it could be? You got QB Andrew Luck the first time around and owner Jim Irsay was sold on his future franchise quarterback so most won’t give the GM much credit for making an obvious pick. Oh, and Mr. Irsay, your boss, he gets arrested. Good gracious. What’s next?
In three offseasons, you’ve tried to build an offensive line. You’ve brought guys in. You’ve drafted them. He’s a former offensive lineman, so of course, he has to know what it takes to identify NFL blocking talent. But talent evaluation is the most inexact of sciences, so you miss on some guys. And others don’t live up to your expectations. When you add a key piece like right tackle Gosder Cherilus in free agency, someone will be quick to mention the underwhelming effort of former center Samson Satele.
That Grigson, doesn’t he realize protecting Luck has to be the No. 1 priority?
Of course he does. But nothing is guaranteed in this life you signed up for, is it? So you keep banging your head into the wall, trying to find the right combination. Naturally, it’s his fault, somehow, when offensive guard Donald Thomas tears his quad in back-to-back years and has just two games to show for his time in Indy. Blame it on the GM, sure.
I recall during the offseason how Grigson gushed about Thomas, who had improved his lower-body strength dramatically. To send him back to IR so soon, well, there goes another hole in the wall. Or maybe Grigson’s workouts are so strenuous they chase away obvious frustrations.
Each time a guy goes down, Grigson is buzzing on his cell phone. Each week in the NFL is running a gauntlet of unexpected challenges. Fail to fix a problem, it’s on you.
How quickly folks forget this guy was NFL Executive of the Year for a first-season turnaround from 2-14 to 11-5. They’ve gone 11-5 in back-to-back seasons and are mentioned by some as a Super Bowl contender this season, but in Indy, so much is expected. Blame Peyton Manning for that. He raised the bar. And if that bar isn’t reached, well, it’s Grigson’s fault.
Never shy to pull the trigger on moves, Grigson sends a second-round pick to Miami to bring in cornerback Vontae Davis. This cover guy fits the 3-4 scheme perfectly, but the raw talent has some growing to do. The potential is there, so you re-sign him for $39 million. This move and so many others are endlessly scrutinized, like how free-agent money is spent — did Erik Walden and Ricky Jean Francois really command that much?
Then there’s running back Trent Richardson. A trade costing your first-round pick can be the beginning of the end for a GM if it bombs. Richardson has yet to deliver on the price paid, although the Colts are confident it’s a matter of time. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way, armchair quarterbacks everywhere have taken sides. And many are convinced of the same, old reality: Grigson must be crazy.
Grigson has said more than once that you have to be prepared for everything. He was smart to sign free-agent Mike Adams a while back. Adams is an old pro and will fit perfectly in this defense. Nice move, not that many noticed or gave Grigson credit.
This blog wasn’t written to suck up to the big guy. Just consider it an attempt to enlighten on his daily job. And even then, I’m probably not coming close.
Today’s frenzied sports world is intensified by social media, knee-jerk Twitter reactions from so-called experts, although so many have never spoken to the man or covered an NFL team closely to understand just what the hell is going on from one day to the next. It’s too easy to rip into anyone. Journalists don’t seem to spend much time writing about guy who has overcome a lot to get the job done. If you want to make a name for yourself when tapping the computer keyboard, many surmise, you have to do it by bringing out the hammer and making a big splash. Not true, but you see it every day on the Internet.
Let’s just leave it at this for now. Each time a move doesn’t work or a player fails to meet expectations, there’s a flip side to that coin that people shouldn’t be so quick to forget. That first draft was one of the best in recent memory — for any NFL team. In addition Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Josh Chapman and Ballard being selected, Grigson traded up to get wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. He found tackle machine Jerrell Freeman in Canada. And while it’s early yet, offensive guard Jack Mewhort (second-round pick) and wide receiver Donte Moncrief (third-round pick) look like keepers. Free-agent additions such as wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson look like money well-spent.
Grigson has taken all the shots and keeps plugging. And this team looks like it could be the best Colts squad since he arrived. If so, the players and obviously Luck will be heaped with much of the praise. So, too, will Pagano.
But it’s important to remember Grigson has never backed down from making the hard decisions and has kept his foremost focus on trying to improve this team every day. The product has been successful in a time when it would have reasonable to expect a few years of rebuilding. That hasn’t been the case. The Colts went from worst to first in the blink of an eye. And they’ve stayed there in the AFC South.
Maybe Grigson is part crazy to do what he does. But for better or for worse, he’s done a decent job. Or maybe I’m just crazy, too.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.