By Tom James
CNHI News Service
Expect defensive end Robert Mathis and wide receiver Pierre Garcon to be priorities for the Indianapolis Colts during free agency.
According to Colts owner Jim Irsay, Mathis and Garcon are both unrestricted free agents and appear to be the cornerstones for the team moving forward. Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, meanwhile, may be suiting up for another team in 2012.
Irsay thinks deals can get worked out with Mathis and Garcon. At least that’s the plan.
“I think we can (sign Mathis). We’d like to get something done there. We have the (franchise) tag if we don’t, but I think we’ll get something done,” he said Wednesday during an
impromptu meeting with media at the Super Bowl Media Center.
“We’d like to have Pierre back for sure. We want to get something done along those lines. You could tag either Robert or (Garcon), but the goal would be to get something done sooner than later on those guys.”
Re-signing Mathis, in particular, might mean that defensive end Dwight Freeney will be asked to restructure his contract.
“That’s something that you can consider. You don’t always know if its possible with just one year left (on Freeney’s current deal). But, no question about it, when you look where we are with the (salary) cap, even if you look at making some significant roster changes to help the situation some, you’re still at a difficult point with the cap,” Irsay said.
“It didn’t go up. We were cash over cap last year. We have a real challenge there where the cap stands period. We’re going to have to be thoughtful in terms in how we go about that. There’s just not that much room this year. In a couple years, particularly even next year, it will probably look better. But this year there’s not a lot of room.”
Manning update — While recent reports indicated that Irsay and Peyton Manning were expected to meet sometime next week in an effort to determine the future of the quarterback with the Colts, the team’s owner said Wednesday that the decision may not be forthcoming until next month.
Manning underwent neck fusion surgery Sept. 8 and has not practiced with the team since the end of the 2010 season.
“I would imagine we’ll go into early March and that sort of thing in terms of us just having a conversation. But like I’ve said before, it’s a serious medical thing. It’s a very complicated medical issue. There’s a lot of things that get lost in the shuffle in terms of really looking at the situation,” Irsay said.
“One of the things is you just haven’t seen this in an NFL quarterback at all. And when you try to consult doctors, literally world wide, in terms of what are the expectations, what are the dangers, the risks, the aspects of it, no one can give you a definitive answer. Its very unusual and it’s obviously been going on for over a year now.”
The question that must be answered is whether Manning can return to his previous form as a four-time league Most Valuable Player.
“Can he return to play at a really high level? Can he drill it in Foxboro in January when it’s 10 degrees outside? Is he going to be back to the highest Hall of Fame level that he expects to play at?,” Irsay said.
“I think the second issue has always been the health and the risk of going back onto the field.. There are two separate issues. They’re complicated issues.”
Arians ready to work — Newly-hired offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wants to hit the ground running as he starts his second stint on the Indianapolis Colts coaching staff.
Arians ran the Pittsburgh Steelers offense for the past five seasons and is widely credited for helping develop quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during his eight years with the team. Prior to that, he was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator for three seasons (2001-03).
But it’s in Indianapolis where the career of the 59-year old coach gained momentum. Arians was a member of Jim Mora’s Colts coaching staff from 1998-2000, working as the team’s quarterbacks coach. As such, he was responsible for working with a young Peyton Manning during his initial three years in the National Football League.
Now, 12 years after leaving the Indianapolis organization, Arians is back. Interestingly, the situation that he is now entering with the Colts closely mirrors the last time he was on the team’s coaching staff.
“It’s kind of like deja vu. It’s scary. New general manager, new head coach. Hopefully Peyton can come back and get ready to go, but a new quarterback and a new beginning,” the York, Pa., native said during a Wednesday afternoon teleconference.
“It’s exciting. I walked into the (Colts offices) two days ago and I’ve never been greeted better in 37 years of coaching. A lot of old friends. I’m really excited about putting that Horseshoe (logo) back on and being part of (Jim) Irsay’s organization. He’s picked two great guys as general manager (Ryan Grigson) and head coach (Chuck Pagano). Just looking forward to it.”
Both Irsay and Grigson have said that Indianapolis has entered a rebuilding period. After 10 straight seasons of 10-or-more wins and playoff appearances, including two trips to the Super Bowl, the Colts fortunes dipped quite a bit in 2011 as the team finished with a 2-14 record.
“It’s starting over. We’ll put a great staff together and see who’s available. We’ll see what those guys do best and try to fit the offense to what they do,” Arians said.
“Obviously I’m familiar with Peyton. We’ll see what the young guys do best. We’ll find out who all the pieces of the puzzle are as we go through free agency and the draft and formulate a plan to put the best offense out there that those guys can perform in.”
In addition to Arians returning, the Colts also hired former Steelers offensive assistant Harold Goodwin as offensive line coach. Two members of former coach Jim Caldwell’s coaching staff, Clyde Christensen and David Walker, are expected to remain.
Christensen — Indianapolis’ offensive coordinator the last two seasons — will probably take over as either the team’s quarterbacks or receivers coach. He was Indianapolis’ receivers coach for Caldwell and Tony Dungy from 2002-08. Walker was the Colts’ running backs coach in 2011 and could handle those duties again if he returns.
“It’s an ongoing process. (The offensive coaching staff will be a) couple of the guys who are there and bringing in some more guys. Coach (Chuck) Pagano will announce that when he’s ready,” Arians said.
Whoever plays quarterback for the Colts in 2012 — whether it’s Manning, Luck or Griffin III — the offense will be striving for better overall balance.
“You cannot be one dimensional. You want to stay balanced and I learned that from (former Indianapolis offensive coordinator) Tom Moore, who I think is one of the best ever. The fourth quarter dictates itself. If you are behind, you are going to throw more. If you are ahead, you are going to try and eat clock,” Arians explained.
“Teams are eating clock by throwing the football now because they know they have a really good short passing game. (The Steelers) were second in the league in time of possession this year, but we threw more than we ran. We won a lot of games at the end running out the clock throwing the football. I’ve got no problem with that as long as the quarterbacks and receivers can handle it.”
Interestingly, Arians will have an opportunity to work with his third No. 1 draft pick (Manning in 1998 and Cleveland’s Tim Couch in 1999) after the Colts select either Luck or Griffin III in April. His game plan for young quarterbacks is a simple one.
“It’s getting them to understand the protections. If you don’t know your protections as a quarterback, where your ‘hots’ and ‘sights’ are, you are going to get killed. Just learning and drilling the protections. Who is coming free and how to handle that. It’s way more important than getting timing with a receiver. That can be done any day of the week,” he explained.
“It’s a quarterback friendly offense, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to get us in the right play and allows the freedom to grow.”
And learning comes with playing early, Arians said.
“Let him grow. Put him out there and let him play. They are going to make mistakes. You have to live with it and learn from it to get better,” the veteran NFL assistant voiced.