News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 6, 2012

Irsay: Colts are in 'rebuilding stage'

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS —  So are the Indianapolis Colts in a retooling or a rebuilding mode heading into the offseason?

If you ask the players, they would prefer to use the retooling philosophy. In their minds, get some injured players back and the Colts can be right back in the thick of the AFC South title race and once again be a contender for the AFC championship.

Team owner Jim Irsay, though, sees a tougher road ahead.

“Clearly we are in a rebuilding stage, there is no sugar-coating the fact that there are areas of talent that we need,” Irsay said earlier this week.

“So the decisions that are coming up are crucial, and obviously, when you’re looking at general manager, head coach, having the number one pick in the draft and knowing that you’re rebuilding in some areas, that is about as massive as it gets. But we are up for the challenge, and I’m excited about the future.”

The Colts’ owner wants a general manager with a long-range view and a plan for restoring the Colts after this year’s 2-14 record. He wants someone with a sense of the franchise’s place in the community.

Still, Irsay made one thing very clear. The buck stops with him when it comes to making the final call on all of the pressing issues that are currently facing the Colts’ franchise.

“When it comes to some of those major decisions, it ultimately has always been presented to me that, ‘This is what we’re thinking, but it’s your call.’ That is the way it has to be,” he said.

The first of those “major decisions” will be deciding on just who will take over as the day-to-day leader of the franchise.

Potential candidates to be the Colts’ new general manager include Dave Gettleman (Giants), Eric DeCosta (Ravens), Reggie McKenzie (Packers), John Dorsey (Packers), Les Snead (Falcons); Jason Licht (Patriots), Tom Gamble (49ers), Duke Tobin (Bengals).

Tobin is a former scout for Indianapolis and the son of former Colts GM Bill Tobin. The Colts, meanwhile, have requested permission from Baltimore officials to talk to DeCosta.

Whomever is hired will have to make the call on whether to keep or jettison coach Jim Caldwell and his coaching staff. But that’s only the only tough call that Irsay and a new general manager will have to address in the coming months.

Quarterback Peyton Manning, 35, is due a $28 million option bonus on March 8 that triggers the final four years of his five-year, $90 million contract.

If the Colts opt to not pay it and Manning declines to push back the date, the NFL’s only four-time MVP becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Is Manning optimistic he’ll be where he needs to be, physically, in early March?

“We’ll see,” he said. “I may, but I’m probably not going to share.”

• Caldwell stays or goes? — Coach Jim Caldwell and his coaching staff’s status remains in limbo until team owner Jim Irsay decides on who to hire as general manager.

Irsay said this week that the process will be “extensive,” and “it could take multiple weeks.” The search began when both vice chairman Bill Polian and vice-president/general manager Chris Polian were fired.

“I think that it is possible that it is not resolved until the new general manger is here. But like I said, I don’t want to commit or put myself in a box to any scenario, because if I see a direction for the franchise to go that gives us the best chance to win and win the right way for the long term, then I wouldn’t rule out that scenario,” the Colts owner said.

“I would anticipate that the new general manager would be hired before we confirmed that Jim is going to be back or that we are going to go in another direction. But again, I’m not saying that is definitely the way it’s going to happen, because what happens in going forward now and beyond is that things happen that you don’t anticipate.”

n Is Manning going to play in 2012? — Irsay isn’t sure if the four-time National Football League MVP will be healthy to play next season. Nobody — team doctors, trainers or Manning’s own surgeon — is sure.

“I don’t [know]. I’ve always said, to me this is, first and foremost, a medical and health situation. I think the key thing for me has always been, and particularly since the fusion, is it safe for him to go on the field? Is it something where he is healthy enough to resume his career, to go on the field and play at a high level, but also to be in harm’s way in the physical game that we have?” the Colts owner said.

“What he means to the franchise, what he means to the Colts and to the league, [his health] to me always has been the most important decision for me. So that is something that we are continuing to see where we’re at with [the situation].”

• Top needs for next season —- Here’s a quick look at three positions where the Colts may be looking to improve for the 2012 season.

Wide receiver: Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez are now free agents. Wayne wants to come back but may price himself too high for the Colts to make a deal. Garcon reportedly wants look around before deciding on whether to come back or not. Gonzalez, meanwhile, found himself on the outside looking in during the last couple of seasons under the Polians’ regime.

Cornerback: The Colts are young here already, but Indianapolis could stand to come up with a large infusion of ready-to-play talent. Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey are young veterans. Rookie Chris Rucker and second-year Kevin Thomas also saw extensive work in 2011.

Interior offensive line: It would appear as if the Colts are set at both offensive tackle spots for the long term after drafting Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana in 2011. And a pair of veteran starters, C Jeff Saturday and OG/OT Ryan Diem, are contemplating retirement. Indianapolis would appear to have needs at center and offensive guard.