Sanders, Ugoh deals prove Polian's fallibility

September 14, 2010
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Few take exception with the notion that when it comes to building a professional football team, Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian is a genius.

A genius perhaps, but hardly infallible. But then again, who among us is?

The gridiron Einstein’s legacy has taken two big hits recently. Exhibit A: Tony Ugoh. Exhibit B: Bob Sanders.

Polian was so sure Ugoh was going to be a star on the Colts’ offensive line that he traded away a 2008 first-round draft pick to take him in the second round of the 2007 draft. The move was hailed as pure genius, with Polian getting the offensive lineman he was going to need in 2008 a year early.

Ugoh, who was canned earlier this month, suffered this season with a bad toe. But footwork was a real problem for the player that has been called one of Polian’s worst draft busts ever, right from the beginning. And he would have been cut a lot sooner had Polian not gambled so much on him.

Ugoh had real problems blocking anyone resembling a quality lineman, and if Peyton Manning didn’t have such a quick release and a sixth sense, Ugoh would have looked a lot worse. That’s why no other NFL team is likely to pick him up.

Sanders is slightly more complicated. It’s difficult to fault Polian for taking Sanders 44th overall in the 2004 draft. No one, short of the Almighty, can predict the kind of injury problems Sanders has had since coming out of Iowa.

And No. 21 has certainly had his shining moments. The man former Colts coach Tony Dungy called “The Eraser” was named the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and was a big reason the Colts won Super Bowl XLI.

Dungy gave Sanders his nickname for his ability to cover up mistakes. There have been plenty of mistakes to cover up in the Colts defense during the Sanders era. The one mistake, however, Sanders might uncover is the big one made by Polian.

Polian’s mistake with Sanders came in late 2007, when signs of Sanders’ tendency to be injury prone were surfacing. Polian locked him down with a five-year, $37.5 million contract, with $20 million guaranteed. That’s why Polian is stuck with Sanders at this point. He’s simply invested too much—of his reputation and Jim Irsay’s money—to turn back now.

Polian is nothing if not pragmatic. That’s the hallmark of any great architect. But listening to him talk about Sanders and his prospects to stay healthy is like listening to another person, way too emotionally involved to see (or admit) the reality of this situation.

The reality is, the Colts have rolled the dice. One snake eye has turned up, but they can’t walk away from the table. Not while there’s still even a chance that the other snake eye might tip over and turn up six. The Colts have simply already bet too much on Sanders. They’ve already committed to pay Sanders about $30 million including this season. That’s the reality.

Another reality that makes the Sanders’ case even more interesting is that the Colts have proven they can win without him. At least they can get to the Super Bowl. I suppose you could argue that with him last year, the Colts would have shut down the Saints. Who knows, maybe he covers up enough mistakes to make Curtis Painter a winner. Well, I don’t think even Polian would go that far.

So was the Sanders re-signing gamble a good one? It’s difficult to argue that it was at this point. Consider, Sanders' average annual salary of $7.5 million under the extension is nearly $1 million more than what Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu got in his new deal the same year, and the guaranteed money is more than what Ed Reed got from Baltimore when he signed an extension with the Ravens in June 2006.

You'd have to think the Colts could have paid for some pretty critical support players if all that money wasn't going to the largely inactive Sanders.

But if Sanders recovers from his current elbow injury, has a miraculous run of good health, and snags a second Super Bowl ring, no one will even remember Ugoh’s name.

And Polian’s record of infallibility will be restored.
 

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  • How do Colts move forward?
    The Colts will have a tough time winning another Super Bowl without Bob Sanders. If he misses the rest of the season with yet another injury, I believe Polian has no choice to cut him. Despite the Colts reluctance to pay Cato June, Mike Peterson and other above average linebackers that have come and gone, I hope that the Colts would consider using that extra money to bring in a playmaker at outside linebacker. Unfortunately, those extra funds may need to be used to beef up the offensive line opposed to grabbing another stellar defensive player.
  • You missed another one
    What about the brilliant give away of soon to be in the Hall of Fame Marshall Faulk for 2nd and 5th round draft choices.

    The next brilliant move will be making Manning the highest paid player in the league thus promising us more of the same where all the Colts hopes are based on keeping Manning healthy and productive - worked out well in Texas last week didn't it - Manning was great and he had no help. This team wins maybe 5 games if Manning can't play.
  • hard to justify Sanders cut
    At this point, since the Colts have kept Sanders so long and gambled so much, they have to keep him because the potential upside outweighs the downside. IF he does stay healthy, he helps them tremendously. There's still that chance that he can help the team, and as long as that chance exists, given they've already spent $30M on this contract, they must stay the course. Otherwise the $30M investment was for nothing. As it is, there's still a chance, however small, for a payoff.
  • to name a few
    You can name at least 3 maybe 4 really really good players ,the almighty Pollian let go only to see each and every one of them get a ring the very next year with a different team. Those individuals are all saying "THANKS BILL"
  • Track record unmatched
    There is no better executive in football than Polian. Small market...you can pay a few guys. Buffalo was great while he was there, has been awful since he left, and the Colts were awful before he got here, and the best team in football record wise since he came. An eye for talent is subjective. Everyone whiffs once in while. How about low draft picks and undrafted free agents who have played for us? No one finds as many guys as he does...Dominic Rhodes, Antoine Bethea, Gary Brackett, David Thornton, Pierre Garcon, a long list. There may be a few guys who went on to greener pastures, but not many, (I notice Robo didn't name anyone). Anyone who wants a different executive is nuts...he may be prickly and arrogant, and he is not right all the time, but he is right more than anyone else...he was wrong about Ugoh, but he was as right as you could be about Sanders, who slipped to the second round because no one else was smart enough to see what he could be, Sanders was more important in the Super bowl win than anyone, and if we never win another one becuase he can't stay healthy I will still take the one we got...football is a rough game, people get hurt. It is my opinion that Mr. Polian's legendary surly personality, disdain for media, constant complaining and lobbying of the NFL to get rule changes, and his paranoia about inside information contributes to your seeming need to find a chink in his armor, Anthony. He is not a nice guy, but he is the best executive in football.
    • Track record unmatched
      There is no better executive in football than Polian. Small market...you can pay a few guys. Buffalo was great while he was there, has been awful since he left, and the Colts were awful before he got here, and the best team in football record wise since he came. An eye for talent is subjective. Everyone whiffs once in while. How about low draft picks and undrafted free agents who have played for us? No one finds as many guys as he does...Dominic Rhodes, Antoine Bethea, Gary Brackett, David Thornton, Pierre Garcon, a long list. There may be a few guys who went on to greener pastures, but not many, (I notice Robo didn't name anyone). Anyone who wants a different executive is nuts...he may be prickly and arrogant, and he is not right all the time, but he is right more than anyone else...he was wrong about Ugoh, but he was as right as you could be about Sanders, who slipped to the second round because no one else was smart enough to see what he could be, Sanders was more important in the Super bowl win than anyone, and if we never win another one becuase he can't stay healthy I will still take the one we got...football is a rough game, people get hurt. It is my opinion that Mr. Polian's legendary surly personality, disdain for media, constant complaining and lobbying of the NFL to get rule changes, and his paranoia about inside information contributes to your seeming need to find a chink in his armor, Anthony. He is not a nice guy, but he is the best executive in football.
    • my motives
      Jim, I do want to set one thing straight. This post has nothing to do with Bill Polian's so-called surly nature. I've said on this blog before and I'd tell anyone who asks, Bill Polian has always treated me professionally and with respect and been generous with his time anytime I've requested an interview. To suggest I'm grinding an ax is simply not accurate. I'm simply pointing out Bill Polian's track record, which as you pointed out is extremely solid. Just not perfect.
    • Track record unmatched
      Well said Jim!!! The Colts stunk before Polian arrived just as Buffalo has stunk since he left. Sure he's not perfect, none of us are. I make errors at work everyday. And I didn't agree w/ releasing Faulk for 2nd & 5th rounder. In fact, I was furious about it. But Edggerin James erased that for me real quick... another Polian move. And did we all forget the biggest move of the Colts franchise? Manning or Ryan Leaf. Ha, how did that turn out? Mr. Polian, thank you... keep up the good work.
    • Credit where credit is due
      Polian has done a very nice job. However, everyone seems to ignore most of his bad moves based on the one good move (Manning) that changed the franchise. The credit for what this team has accomplished should primarily be given to Manning. The shame will be if we only get one Super Bowl title after having the best QB in history. I wonder how much better it could have been if the pieces around him were stronger. Take Manning away from this team and we can't win a game. Take Brady away from the Patriots for a year and they go 11 - 5. The article could have gone on to mention other first and second round draft pick busts like Anthony Gonzalez, Tim Jennings, Mike Pollak, Mike Doss, and Rob Morris. Clearly Polian is a very good GM, but not as perfect as everyone makes him out to be. Anthony's point is right on.
    • WRONG GUY
      My dear Anthony:
      You went after the wrong GM in town. Polian brought our fair city a world title. Who would have ever thought that possible during the Mark Herrmann era, or the Jeff George era or frankly any time? Polian delivered Manning. Together they delivered Lombardi.
      Now, on the other side of town, a different story.
      Brandon Rush. Guaranteeed money to Lance Stephenson. Jaskekevisus. Hansbrough. Not taking a PG in a PG rich draft; then having to trade for one a year later. Fire Zeke; hire Rick; give Rick extension; fire Rick; hire JOB; give extension;
      Larry Bird should have been your target.
      Polian brought a title.
      Bird brought embarrasssment.
    • Well...
      ... The Colt's have been the most consistently good team in the NFL since 2000, so the guy is doing something right - it pretty much goes without saying, doesn't it? And yes, ROBO, could you name those "really good" players who went on to get rings with their new teams the very next year?
    • yes
      Polian is good, but he's not that good. He's missed in Indy and Buffalo. And he's had really good fortune ... and Peyton Manning.

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