5 Indianapolis Colts Their fate rides largely on two gutsy off-season calls by club president Bill Polian: the trading of Marshall Faulk and the drafting of Edgerrin James

August 29, 1999

Given that the Colts' leading returning rusher in '99 is Peyton
Manning, with 62 yards, it's fair to ask, Is Indianapolis nuts
for trading Marshall Faulk? After all, Faulk earned his third
Pro Bowl appearance last season with a career-high 1,319 yards
rushing. Throw in Faulk's franchise-record 86 receptions for 908
yards, and he ranked sixth in NFL history in yards from
scrimmage in a season. Faulk represented an extraordinary 43.5%
of the Colts' total offense in '98, the most by any player in
the league.

However, team president Bill Polian chose to overlook those
numbers and concentrate instead on the fact that even with
Faulk's output, Indianapolis still ranked 26th in the NFL in
rushing, averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, performed miserably
in short yardage situations and, most important, finished with a
3-13 record. Therefore when Faulk brazenly informed the Colts
shortly after the '98 season that he planned to hold out during
training camp to demand a renegotiation of his contract that had
two years remaining, Polian decided Faulk wasn't worth the
hassle. Two days before the draft, Polian shocked Colts fans by
trading the franchise's second alltime leading rusher to St.
Louis for the bargain price of two draft picks: a second-rounder
and a fifth-rounder. "The trade was easy," Polian insists. "Why
do you want to endure an acrimonious holdout that takes the
focus away from trying to win?"

Colts fans took some solace in the fact that at least they could
replace Faulk with Heisman Trophy running back Ricky Williams.
Then Polian stunned the locals again by passing on Williams in
favor of Edgerrin James, a player whose name he had never
mentioned publicly before the draft. Polian was true to his
motto, What's popular isn't always right, and what's right isn't
always popular. Alas, Polian couldn't escape an acrimonious
holdout after all: The sad irony was that James was taken over
Williams in small part for his perceived signability, yet
Williams was among the earliest first-rounders to come to terms,
while James was one of the last, arriving 20 days late for
training camp.

Admitting that choosing James over Williams was the toughest
decision of his career, Polian says he did so because he wants
Manning to remain the focal point of a pass-oriented offense,
and he also believes that James is a better receiver than
Williams. Polian hopes the 6-foot, 216-pound tailback, who
rushed for 1,416 yards and caught 17 passes at Miami last
season, can develop into a bigger, tougher version of Faulk.
Coach Jim Mora acknowledges the obvious burden on James to fare
well in the inevitable comparisons. "There's going to be a lot
of pressure on Edgerrin to measure up to the history of Faulk
and the potential of Williams," Mora says. "Sometimes young guys
don't think like that, and as long as he doesn't struggle
early...."

Nobody is more eager for James to establish himself than
Manning, who admits that he leaned heavily on Faulk during an
impressive rookie season when he set franchise records for
passes, completions and passing yards, and was the only
quarterback in the league to take all of his team's offensive
snaps. Manning's confidence increased with each game. In his
first nine starts he threw 12 touchdowns and 18 interceptions,
but over the final seven games he tossed 14 touchdowns and only
10 interceptions; Colts coaches are plotting to continue that
positive trend with a simplified offensive scheme. "I think this
year we have a better feel for which plays work," Manning says.
"We've decided to be really good at two or three plays rather
than average at 10 plays."

Mora hopes to relieve some strain on the offense with the
free-agent additions of defensive ends Chad Bratzke and Shawn
King, veteran linebacker Cornelius Bennett and safety Chad Cota,
who will bolster a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL last
season. The defensive overhaul and the trade of Faulk signal a
fresh start in Indianapolis. The Colts have only six players
older than 30 on their roster, only 17 players remaining from
the team that Polian inherited in December of '97 and only eight
left from the '95 AFC Championship Game in which the Colts were
a bobbled Hail Mary away from the Super Bowl. Following another
playoff appearance in '96, the franchise has won just six of its
last 32 games and has endured two straight seasons of 13 defeats.

Indianapolis was the only team not to reach the playoffs from
the robust AFC East in '98, so Mora's goal is at least to "close
the gap" between the Colts and the rest of the division this
season. To accomplish that, James must begin to prove that he's
better than both Faulk and Williams. Then perhaps Polian can be
both popular and right.

--T.C.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Winning edge? James wasn't the popular choice in the draft, but the Colts believe he'll turn out to be the right one.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO

SCHEDULE

Sept. 12 BUFFALO
19 at New England
26 at San Diego
Oct. 3 Open date
10 MIAMI
17 at N.Y. Jets
24 CINCINNATI
31 DALLAS
Nov. 7 KANSAS CITY
14 at N.Y. Giants
21 at Philadelphia
28 N.Y. JETS
Dec. 5 at Miami
12 NEW ENGLAND
19 WASHINGTON
26 at Cleveland
Jan. 2 at Buffalo

FAST FACTS

1998 Record 3-13 (5th in AFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 26/6/12; defense 29/16/29

1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 11 Opponents' 1998 winning
percentage: .517 Games against playoff teams: 9

CHANGING HORSES

The Colts became the fifth team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to
trade a player after a season in which he led the team in both
rushing yards and receptions. Each of the previous four teams,
like Indianapolis, either drafted a running back in the first
round or traded for a veteran running back during that off-season.

Team Player Next year's Next year's
Trade in which he departed rushing leader receiving leader

1998 Colts Marshall Faulk ? ?
To Rams for draft choices

1988 Browns Earnest Byner Eric Metcalf* Webster Slaughter
To Redskins for RB Mike Oliphant

1982 Rams Wendell Tyler Eric Dickerson[#] Mike Barber
To 49ers for draft choices

1977 Colts Lydell Mitchell Joe Washington Joe Washington
To Chargers for RB Joe Washington

1977 Chargers Rickey Young Lydell Mitchell Lydell Mitchell
To Vikings for G Ed White

*Browns' first-round draft choice in 1989
[#]Rams' first-round draft choice in 1983

PLAYER TO WATCH

Defensive tackle Ellis Johnson, who signed a five-year, $25
million extension in February with a year remaining on his
contract, is the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL who
has never gone to the Pro Bowl. Why would the Colts refuse to
meet the demands of Marshall Faulk but voluntarily extend
Johnson's contract? Because the fifth-year lineman is a budding
star coming off a season in which he had career highs in tackles
and sacks. Considered somewhat undersized at 6'2" and 292
pounds, Johnson makes up for it with nimble feet, quick hands,
voracious film study and the brash attitude that offensive
linemen are "obstacles rather than people." Johnson is still
developing as a run stopper, but his fierce pass rush should
only be accentuated this year by newly acquired rush end Chad
Bratzke.

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS

Coach: Jim Mora
Second season with Colts (96-87 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Peyton Manning 39
575 att. 326 comp. 56.7% 3,739 yds. 26 TDs 28 int. 71.2 rtg.

RB Edgerrin James (R)[1] 33
242 att. 1,416 yds. 5.9 avg. 17 rec. 255 yds. 15.0 avg. 19 TDs

RB Darick Holmes[1] 244
95 att. 394 yds. 4.1 avg. 20 rec. 188 yds. 9.4 avg. 1 TD

FB Scott Greene 330
0 att. 0 yds. no avg. 1 rec. 2 yds. 2.0 avg. 0 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
[PVR]
WR Marvin Harrison 60 59 rec. 776 yds. 7 TDs
WR E.G. Green 163 15 rec. 177 yds. 1 TD
WR Jerome Pathon 191 50 rec. 511 yds. 1 TD
TE Ken Dilger 239 31 rec. 303 yds. 1 TD
K Mike Vanderjagt 113 23/23 XPs 27/31 FGs 104 pts.
PR Kevin Prentiss (R)[1]265 26 ret. 13.0 avg. 1 TD
KR Kevin Prentiss (R)[1]265 19 ret. 24.1 avg. 1 TD
LT Tarik Glenn 6'5" 335 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Steve McKinney 6'4" 302 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Jay Leeuwenburg 6'3" 290 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Larry Moore 6'2" 312 lbs. 6 games 5 starts
RT Adam Meadows 6'5" 299 lbs. 14 games 14 starts

Defense

LE Shawn King[1][2] 11 tackles 2 sacks
LT Tony McCoy 53 tackles 6 sacks
RT Ellis Johnson 55 tackles 8 sacks
RE Chad Bratzke[1] 79 tackles 11 sacks
OLB Cornelius Bennett[1] 92 tackles 1 sack
MLB Jeff Brady[1] 104 tackles 4 int.
OLB Mike Peterson (R)[1] 74 tackles 4 sacks
CB Jeff Burris 68 tackles 1 int.
SS Chad Cota 96 tackles 4 int.
FS Jason Belser 96 tackles 1 int.
CB Tyrone Poole 61 tackles 1 int.
P Hunter Smith (R)[1] 42 punts 41.7 avg.

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)
[2]1997 statistics

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)