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Are the Colts paying the price for Andrew Luck's contract

Posted Oct 9, 2016

There has been a perceived wisdom in the NFL for a few seasons now that you know you are bad if you make the Jacksonville Jaguars look good.

In that case, for three quarters at Wembley on October 2, the Indianapolis Colts must have been just about as bad as anyone the NFL has seen in quite some time because they made the Jags look like world beaters.

Offensively, they couldn’t protect quarterback Andrew Luck and defensively it appeared as though they were trying to break any record the Raiders have ever set for most penalties conceded in a game.

They looked a pale imitation of their Peyton Manning days when they were regimented and organised better than most teams in the league and spent most seasons as a prized scalp on other teams’ schedules.

At least in Luck they have a quarterback around whom you can build something and the Colts realised that in the close season when they signed him to the largest contract in NFL history, six years for $140million.

So how odd it was then that shortly after arriving back in America from their London trip, Colts general manager, Ryan Grigson, chose the build-up to their game against Chicago on Sunday as a time to show cracks on the inside of the organisation.

In one interview, Grigson managed to paint the Colts defense as not good enough and their massively-rewarded quarterback as part of the reason they couldn’t make that defense any better.

Grigson said: “We have a defense that is a work in progress. Once we paid Andrew what we did, it’s going to take some time to build on the other side of the ball.”

Grigson then tried to soften the blow by adding that “we’re all accountable. Coach and I have a lot of faith in this team. It’s early season. There’s no reason to panic.”

Grigson isn’t necessarily wrong in his assertion about the pressure Luck’s contract places on the team and its resources. Paying him about $24m per year on average for a long contract makes it difficult to massage other decent players in any great numbers into the roster on what salary cap space remains.

But Indianapolis are far from being the only team that has a high-priced quarterback to accommodate. They are well-paid for a reason and that reason is often because they are the difference-makers. And right now, Luck may have the potential to be the best of the bunch, if only he had a more experienced offensive line in front of him.

Grigson, it could be argued, is also raising the money issue as a way to paper over the cracks that he has failed to address in his five-year tenure that has roughly mirrored Luck’s time at the Colts. In those five years, the GM has spent only 42 per cent of his draft picks on defenders and of the 16 he has picked, only six remain on the Colts roster today.

Regardless of the truth of the impact of Luck’s contract numbers, why make a big deal of it at a time when Indy need a united locker room that is going to look to leaders like Luck for inspiration to get them through the tough times. They don’t need players brooding in the corner, believing that Luck is the reason they can’t get any better.

Grigson needs to concentrate on being a general manager and let Luck get on with the role of playing quarterback.

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There was one notable stat from the Colts win over Chicago on Sunday, besides the fact they actually won a game. Frank Gore picked up enough ground to go ahead of Jim Brown and up to No.9 on the list of all-time rushing yards.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago (actually it is 32 years) that Walter Payton surpassed Brown’s record of 12,312 yards. Payton went on to leave Brown’s mark a long way behind after he retired with 16,726 yards to his name only to be overtaken by Emmitt Smith in 2002, who eventually hung up his cleats with 18,355 yards on the board, a record that still stands.

Gore will probably move up higher than ninth on the list before he retires but I doubt he will ever overhaul Smith’s total. In fact, looking down the list of running backs still playing, it is possible to imagine that Smith will hold that record for a considerable amount of time yet.

I remember when Payton was closing in on Brown’s record (Franco Harris was also getting close) and it seemed like such a big deal. Brown had put up numbers many believed would stand for ever. It is easy to view Smith’s current record total in the same manner but someone will get there one day.

But even as Gore became the ninth person to beat Brown’s number, I happened to see some old footage of Brown running the ball, film that I hadn’t seen in a few years and it came as a timely reminder of just how good he was.

He amassed that total in just nine seasons at a time when there were only 14 games in a season and his yards-per-carry average is sensational.

Of the nine players in front of him, Smith averaged 4.2 yards per carry for his career, Payton 4.4, Barry Sanders 5.0, Curtis Martin 4.0, LaDainian Tomlinson 4.3, Jerome Bettis 3.9, Eric Dickerson 4.4, Tony Dorsett 4.3 and Frank Gore 4.4.

Jim Brown averaged a ridiculous 5.2 yards per carry.

It is impossible to compare players at any position over the generations. The game changes as do the challenges. They were all great runners. Smith and Dorsett could spin 360 degrees out of any tackle; Payton was superhuman, leaping over defenders if he couldn’t go around them; Sanders could cut 90 degrees from a centre of gravity at about the height of most players’ knees; Bettis was a bowling-ball battering ram; and Dickerson was silky smooth and deceptively quick.

But Jim Brown was brutal and graceful, powerful and agile, intelligent and fast. He was a destructive and punishing rusher who blazed a trail. One day before too long, he will fall out of the top 10, with Adrian Peterson only 587 yards behind him, although out injured at the moment.

Even when he starts to drop down, Brown will remain for many the greatest there ever was. There have been other backs who could block better, who could catch better, who could throw a ball better.

When it came to simply taking a hand-off and running the ball, though, it is tough to name a player who did that better than Jim Brown.

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