What the Colts are trying to do this off-season is not about maintaining the status quo or keeping their AFC South rivals at bay. It's about more. Far more.
The Colts lost three seasons ago in the wild-card round, then in the divisional round in 2013. Last year, they made it all the way to the conference championship before being dismantled by the Patriots. Rarely does the NFL—or any sport—work in such a clear progression, but the next step for Indianapolis is obvious: an AFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl.
That is exactly how GM Ryan Grigson has approached free agency, too. The Colts believe their wait is over.
"Heck, yeah. Every year, we’ve taken a significant step every year," Grigson said at the NFL combine. "Can we get better? Sure, we can but we’ve made a significant stride every year getting close to our ultimate goal.
"Like I’ve said many times, I don’t know why you get out of bed in the morning with these jobs in this league if you don’t have that belief that you can win it all. I’d hate to be in that situation. That’s our goal and what we’re trying to do every day and every move we make has that in mind."
The Trent Richardson trade gaffe still follows Grigson, but he has managed to surround Andrew Luck with young talent as the QB heads into his fourth NFL season—T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen and so on. Grigson's aim thus far in March has been to complement that core, on both sides of the football, with proven veterans who fill very specific holes.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson is the latest acquisition, having agreed Wednesday to a three-year deal worth a reported $21 million. Johnson, 33, had grown fed up with his role in Houston's offense and its rebuild, so he angled for his release. A shift across the division to Indianapolis puts him in position to challenge for a title.
[daily_cut.nfl]And in case anyone was wondering just how serious the Colts are about getting over the hump, keep in mind that they booted franchise legend Reggie Wayne to start their off-season tune-up.
Johnson has 12 NFL seasons under his belt, making him the elder statesman of Indianapolis's current free-agent crop. So far, though, the players added alongside him also have earned their keep over lengthy careers. RB Frank Gore, G Todd Herremans and LB Trent Cole each has been in the league for a decade; DT Kendall Langford is a seven-year veteran.
To say that rebuilding teams all load up on youth and contenders stockpile long-in-the-tooth talents would be a brutal overgeneralization. Yet, it's quite clear that the Colts have no intention to play it patient.
"We always kind of go by the motto 'man sharpens man like iron sharpens iron'," coach Chuck Pagano said. "We’re going to try to get better in every spot."
The manner in which the Colts are judged is far more challenging these days. Making the playoffs or getting to Round 2 no longer qualifies as much of a success.
Sure, many teams around the league would trade places with the Colts in a heartbeat. But the Colts want what the Patriots have, leaving no room for consolation prizes. Closing the gap on the AFC's top teams was a perfectly acceptable task two or three year ago. Now, Indianapolis wants to erase that gap entirely.
So, well, has it? Does loading up with Gore, Johnson, Herremans, Cole and Langford swing the conference pendulum in the Colts' favor, as the Patriots deal with key departures like that of Darrelle Revis?
Making the call on that query in mid-March is impossible, but we can say this safely: The Colts are now closer to scaling the mountain than they have been since Peyton Manning's neck injury cost him the 2011 season.
Of course, being "close" won't cut it in Indianapolis. Not anymore.