INDIANAPOLIS -- The focus internally started almost a year ago, with receiver T.Y. Hilton and left tackle Anthony Castonzo signing contract extensions with the Indianapolis Colts. It carried over to the re-signing of tight end Dwayne Allen in March.
The super-heavy lifting was done Tuesday afternoon when the Colts made sure they'd remain competitive for years to come, announcing that quarterback Andrew Luck had signed a contract extension that will pay him $140 million over the next six years.
All four players are crucial for the Colts; all four are signed through at least 2019.
That’s just the start of things for the franchise.
The pressure is on general manager Ryan Grigson to continue to develop Indianapolis' roster through the draft and retain its own free agents the same way the previous regime did with Peyton Manning. The Colts must not waste Luck’s talent ... and the $140 million they’re going to give him.
“It’s no mystery that the franchise quarterback obviously has the most leverage, so to speak, oftentimes to get the best sort of deals, and just total numbers and guarantees,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "But I think that with Peyton, and certainly with Andrew, there was some, I’ll use the word ‘self-sacrifice.’ I guess, just some real consideration about making sure we could pay that nucleus of 10 to 12 guys around Andrew like it was around Peyton.”
The Colts are no longer attempting a quick-fix approach to improving their roster after they missed the playoffs last season.
Building via the draft and keeping their own key free agents is the same way former Colts general manager Bill Polian did things with Manning. It’s safe to say that style worked just fine for Polian & Co., because the Colts had at least 10 victories 11 times and went to two Super Bowls, winning one in 2006.
“Of course in Peyton’s years, we kept the [Dwight] Freeneys and the [Robert] Mathises and the [Marvin] Harrisons and the [Reggie] Waynes and the Tarik Glenns,” Irsay said.
The foundation has been laid for the Colts to maintain consistency because they have young, talented players who are still in their rookie deals. Third-year receiver Donte Moncrief, second-year receiver Phillip Dorsett and third-year offensive lineman Jack Mewhort are also key components for the franchise. And Indianapolis used four of its eight 2016 draft picks on offensive linemen, including its first-rounder on Alabama center Ryan Kelly.
“We really feel with those three receivers being fast and healthy that Moncrief, Dorsett and T.Y. in particular -- who’s really looking to have a huge year -- we love where we are,” Irsay said. “We love the offensive linemen. I think you cannot underestimate how much Ryan Kelly means to the franchise, because I can tell you that he puts Andrew in a different state of mind."
Wholesale roster improvements can’t be done overnight. Next up is getting younger on a defense that could have five starters who are at least 30 years old.
“From the team perspective, I like what they're doing in building their offense, which is the strength of their team," former Colts center and current ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday said. "Knowing what the quarterback is going to make helps knowing where you’re at from a financial standpoint. Now you can go get some defensive help. You can build your roster knowing most of the largest parts have been taken care of and now you focus on the other side of the ball. What Grigson and [coach Chuck] Pagano are doing in bringing a lot of stability to the organization is good for them.”