New GM’s past gives hints about Colts’ future

When I was asked on a local radio show this morning what we can expect from the Indianapolis Colts’ new General Manager, Ryan Grigson, I responded that his track record with the Philadelphia Eagles is about all that we have to go on.

His history in Philadelphia, along with his demeanor and answers to the media’s questions at his introductory press conference in Indianapolis Wednesday, indicate he could be the polar opposite of the man he is replacing, Bill Polian.

Let’s be clear. Ryan Grigson was not in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles. But his input was highly valued, according to Eagles team executives and coaches.

“He [has been] an unbelievable advisor for me and somebody I have bounced a lot of ideas off over the years,” said Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman. “He has left no stone unturned in his efforts to find good players.”

Grigson, 39, spent nine years in Philadelphia, starting as the team’s western regional scout and eventually being named director of player personnel in 2010.

You don’t stay with an organization for nearly a decade—and advance through that company—without agreeing with its basic philosophies. Some within the franchise say Grigson was a guiding voice in forming some of those philosophies.

Grigson, an Indiana native and Purdue University graduate, was primarily involved with scouting college prospects for the NFL draft while in Philly, but he also scouted free agents, evaluated trades and helped determine the make-up of the team’s roster. So his role was considerable.

Compared to Polian, Grigson seems quiet, reserved and humble. Hoosiers like that. But from the standpoint of composing a roster, I expect Grigson to be aggressive, maybe even outlandish by Polianesque standards.

This past season, the Eagles signed a boatload of stars, including cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive linemen Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, running back Ronnie Brown, wide receiver Steve Smith and quarterback Vince Young.

It’s safe to say Grigson had input on most if not all of those acquisitions.

Polian hasn’t acquired that many big names in a decade. He shied away from free agents and big trades in favor of building through the draft.

Grigson also served on the staff of the St. Louis Rams in 1999 when they traded with the Colts for running back Marshall Faulk and pieced together the Greatest Show on Turf. He understands well what key trades and free agent acquisitions can do—in short order—for a team.

Free-agent acquisitions and trades are by their nature high-risk, potentially high-reward moves. The Eagles, while Grigson was there, also made two of the most risky acquisitions in the last decade. Most notably, Philadelphia took a big gamble on signing quarterback Michael Vick in 2009 shortly after being released from prison.

Grigson will likely learn quickly, if he doesn't already know, that character issues may be a bigger deal in a market like Indianapolis than they are in the City of Brotherly Love. Grigson seems like a Midwest guy through and through, so that shouldn't be a huge problem. But in an all-out bid to win, judgment on such issues can be clouded. And I'm not sure that a guy like Vick would ever be fully embraced by the legions of Colts followers here. In the end, a multitude of those types of moves could errode the fan base.

The Eagles also signed much-maligned quarterback Vince Young in 2011 after he couldn’t get along in Tennessee. The Vick acquisition seems to be paying dividends—if they can keep him on the field. The Young acquisition is still in question, but at least it gives the team a serviceable back-up quarterback.

Speaking of quarterbacks, there’s no shortage of people who want to know what Grigson will do with Peyton Manning. That call might be left up to team owner Jim Irsay. But it should be noted that the Eagles jettisoned long-time quarterback Donavan McNabb, who had taken the team to a Super Bowl. Don’t expect Grigson to get bogged down in sentimentality. He knows well these are business decisions. And there’s only one thing that matters—what’s best for the business.

What Grigson decides to do with coach Jim Caldwell might be a tougher call. Philadelphia, as much as any NFL franchise, has valued continuity at the coaching position. Andy Reid has been the Eagles coach since 1999.

While no one is comparing Caldwell to Reid, the duo does have at least a couple things in common. Caldwell and Reid have both proved they can pilot a team to the Super Bowl. They’ve also both faced heavy scrutiny from their local fan bases and media.

Irsay is more sensitive than most owners to what fans are saying. And he’ll readily admit he often makes decisions intuitively.

That might make Grigson the perfect match for the Colts.

He’s a calculated sort who makes decisions by watching hours upon hours of game film, making his calls more by science and his powers of observation and less by the feelings in his gut.

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