Jim Irsay is embarking on a balancing act.
Of course, the Indianapolis Colts team owner expects to win and win now. It’s his natural mindset.
He also understands Andrew Luck needs time to recover from offseason shoulder surgery; new general manager Chris Ballard needs time to build a supporting cast capable of turning the Colts into an annual Super Bowl contender; and that this grand plan will require time to implement.
So, suddenly and strangely, Irsay finds himself preaching patience.
“I’d rather win two Lombardi (trophies) and endure several losing seasons than have one Lombardi and be in the playoffs every single year and never have a losing season for 10 years,” he said after Ballard made Indy’s final draft pick last weekend. “It’s about greatness. It’s about world championships.”
Since his late father, Robert, bought the Los Angeles Rams and swapped franchises with the late Carroll Rosenbloom in 1972, the Colts have won exactly one Super Bowl. They’ve played in two.
Both came after Jim Irsay took control of the team in 1997, and both came with Peyton Manning behind center.
But the sweet taste of victory and the sour aftertaste of coming up short have only increased Irsay’s craving for success.
Right now, the Colts appear nowhere near championship form, even with one of the best young quarterbacks in football.
After finishing 8-8 for the second straight year and missing the playoffs again, Irsay shook up the organization, firing general manager Ryan Grigson, hiring Ballard and essentially putting coach Chuck Pagano on notice that a third consecutive postseason absence could bring more changes.
“I hope Chuck can be our coach for many years to come,” Irsay said in January. “He is our coach this year.”
Pagano’s contract runs through the 2019 season.
By the time the draft rolled around, though, Irsay touted a new public perspective, one that he’d already explained privately.
“That’s what sold me when I came in the building, that it wasn’t like, ‘OK, we’re this close, we’re on the doorstep of winning a Super Bowl,'” Ballard said last Saturday. “He understood where we were at and that to really do this thing right, we needed to have some patience.”
Ballard has quickly overhauled Indy’s biggest weakness, a long struggling defense .
He released the Colts’ top tackler, D’Qwell Jackson, in February, and allowed sacks leader Erik Walden and former Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams to become free agents in March. The blueprint was to get bigger, better and younger on defense.
Ballard used free agency to search for productive, affordable players who would fit into Pagano’s system and the Colts’ locker room. He wound up signing eight veterans, then added six more defensive players in the draft. That gives the Colts a real possibility of plugging eight or nine new defensive starters into the opening day lineup Sept. 10 in Los Angeles.
Those who are still around know what must be done.
“I just want to set a great example and answer questions for those guys,” said Vontae Davis, a 27-year-old cornerback who is now the longest-tenured defensive starter. “Just be somebody they can lean on. Mike Adams was that guy. He was the older guy of the group. Now it’s me and Darius Butler, so we have to be the guys that keep the room together and be leaders and role models.”
With so many changes, Irsay has been plotting a new, long-term strategy for the Colts. He knows Luck might not return to action until training camp opens. He’s aware the defensive transformation probably won’t happen overnight. So he’s scaled back the Super Bowl talk that dominated the conversation two years ago and focused on more realistic immediate goals.
“Look, we’re going into this thinking, ‘Hey, we’re not sure how good we can be (this year), but we sure are looking to be playing in January,'” Irsay said. “That’s our hope and I don’t think that’s unrealistic at all.”