There are more immediate issues for new Colts general manager Ryan Grigson — Jim Caldwell and Peyton Manning spring to mind.
But there is no more important duty for the 39-year-old Indiana native than the draft.
That goes well beyond the No. 1 pick this April —which seems all but certain to be spent on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Colts owner Jim Irsay used the term “rebuilding” when he announced the firing of Bill and Chris Polian on Jan. 2.
And, regardless of whether Caldwell is the head coach or Manning is the starting quarterback, that word is going to resonate throughout the 2012 season.
In one of his final interviews on the job, Bill Polian said Indianapolis’ roster needs an infusion of young talent at every position on the field with the possible exception of offensive tackle.
That talent is highly unlikely to come through free agency. The Colts’ salary cap dollars are tight, and they’ll be hard-pressed to re-sign their own stars, let alone attempt to poach them from other teams.
Under the collective bargaining agreement reached last summer, there will be only modest increases to the cap until 2014. That’s when the new TV money kicks in, and the ceiling could soar.
Until then, the draft takes on even greater importance. Fortunately for Indianapolis, that happens to be Grigson’s forte.
He drafted stars LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia, but he’s found impact players even in less heralded classes.
Take this season for example. Four of Grigson’s 11 picks last April started at least 12 games for the Eagles this year. Seven played in at least 12 games, and four appeared in all 16.
That’s the kind of results the Colts need this spring.
Indianapolis had just five picks last April. Only first-round offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo made at least 12 starts.
With the Colts picking first in every odd round this spring, and second in each even round, they have to do better than that.
If Manning returns, Indianapolis will need to find players who can start immediately in the defensive backfield, along the defensive line and possibly at wide receiver.
If the team will be turning to Luck, depth will be the key. And the Eagles recently have been among the best in the NFL at adeptly trading down and adding picks during the draft — something that can be done effectively well beyond the first round.
Either way, Grigson must meet two simultaneous goals — give the team the talent to win as often as possible now, and build a strong support foundation for Luck in the future.
He made his name as a scout in the NFL, and this is what he loves to do.
Every team in the league constantly is looking for an edge. The Colts believe they’ve found one in Grigson’s talent evaluation skills. Come April, they’ll begin to put that to the test.
The future of the franchise is at stake.