By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Jim Irsay’s selection of Ryan Grigson to replace Bill Polian as the leader of the Indianapolis Colts’ front office last year came as a surprise to many.
Grigson was well-known in NFL scouting circles, but his work was almost invisible to the general public.
The Colts’ magical 2012 season went a long way toward changing that.
Grigson, an Indiana native and Purdue graduate, was named The Sporting News’ NFL Executive of the Year on Monday, edging Denver Broncos boss John Elway — who signed Indianapolis legend Peyton Manning during the offseason — in the process.
“This was a challenging year in anyone’s book, but Ryan is one of the hardest workers I know, and his dedication paid off,” Irsay said in a team release. “We knew we had someone special when we hired Ryan a year ago, and he is extremely deserving of this honor.”
Grigson took over a team that finished with a league-worst 2-14 record in 2011, and he soon was working with a budget that included nearly $38 million in “dead” money — guaranteed dollars from the contracts and bonuses of released players — counted against the salary cap.
He chose Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in April’s draft and also selected starters Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and Vick Ballard in later rounds. Despite monetary limitations, Grigson added veteran starters such as Corey Redding, Winston Justice, Tom Zbikowski, Cassius Vaughn and Vontae Davis through free agency and trades.
The overhaul continued throughout the season as the Colts were forced to use 68 players on the active roster and place 13 men — including starters Donald Brown, Fili Moala and Jarraud Powers — on injured reserve.
Head coach Chuck Pagano also missed 12 games after being diagnosed with leukemia, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians won nine of them in his place.
Indianapolis soared to an 11-5 record overall and a wild-card playoff berth.
“I’m very excited for Ryan, and when you consider what he had to do this season from a personnel standpoint, this award is particularly well-deserved,” said Pagano, himself a candidate for Coach of the Year alongside Arians. “He compiled a remarkable draft class and consistently maintained our roster with able bodies as the year went on and we had to deal with injuries. Ryan was steadfast in his decision making and did a phenomenal job through difficult circumstances. He has outstanding vision and passion, which are two essential traits that he’ll use as he continues to build this team for sustained success.”
Grigson already is looking forward to the future. The Colts are expected to have more than $40 million in salary cap space and could be a major player when the free agent market opens in March.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized for this award, and I’m thankful to all of my peers who considered me for this accolade,” Grigson said. “Our success this season encompassed the entire organization, including the unwavering support from Mr. Irsay, the dedication of the entire scouting department, the leadership of the coaching staff and the gutsy performance of our players week in and week out. I also owe a big debt of gratitude to my wife, Cynthia, and my five children who sacrificed so much in my first year as general manager. This was a very special season, and the courage shown by Chuck and this team will be etched in me and the entire Colts family for a lifetime. This year was a steppingstone en route to our ultimate goal — hoisting the Lombardi Trophy together. We’re going to continue to work tirelessly until we reach that objective.”