Are Indianapolis Colts the Atlanta Braves of the NFL?


Last night I sat down with Mike Cardano of MC3 Sports Media (the owner of Xtra Point Football & Around the Horn Baseball) to discuss the potential NFL Lockout. The interview is being used as part of my research for a book I am writing about how having a dominant dynasty team in sports is better than having parody all throughout the sport. The book will be out later this fall; I'll talk more about that as we get closer.

Mike and I spoke about player health benefits, retiree health and pension benefits and just about every topic that the two sides currently disagree on. One of the topics that came up during our conversation was the subject of the salary cap / salary floor in the NFL and its effect on parody in the NFL. As you may know, because of the ongoing NFL labor issues, this latest 2010 season was an uncapped year.

One of the more interesting things that Cardano spoke about was the effect that Peyton Manning’s new contract will have on the Indianapolis Colts going forward on their roster composition. Manning is a free agent, and while he is clearly a “Derek Jeter type free agent” and will undoubtedly sign back with his team, it will be interesting to see the extent of the windfall he receives.

Right now the $72 Million contract extension that Tom Brady signed with the New England Patriots in September of 2010 which will start in 2011 is the highest contract in the sport. Brady made $6.4 million for the 2010 season and with an average of $18 million per year with a total of $48.5 million guaranteed the average value, Brady's new deal surpasses that of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who agreed this year to a six-year, $97.5 million ($16.25 million average) extension starting next year as well. Manning made $9.4 million for the 2010 season.

Peyton Manning just concluded the final year of a seven-year, $98 million deal ($14 million average) and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he intends to make his quarterback the NFL's highest paid player.

One of the things Cardano that mentioned is that the Indianapolis Colts have to be very concerned about being too top heavy in their salary structure. He's says that it’s been a problem for quite a while now and Manning new contract is likely to only make that worse, not better.

“More than any other team the success of the Colts lie’s in the hands of very few players. You saw this year what injuries to some of the more high profile players did to that team. And If Peyton Manning wasn’t there they may have been a 3-4 win team.” Cardano added, “I’m afraid that the re-signing of Manning will simply continue the salary structure trend of that franchise and their margin for error will be very slim. The franchise needs to find some way to resign Peyton without prohibiting them from fielding a quality roster. The NFL is a contact sport and injuries are going to happen, every team deals with them. You need to have a group of quality players in all aspects of the game that comprises a team, not just a team with quality players on it.”

Cardano continued, “Look at the San Diego this year. The Chargers were first in offense, first in defense and had an All-World performance from their quarterback, yet they missed the playoffs. Why? Special teams.”

Mike then proceeded to point to defense and special teams as the source of the Colts problems during their run of a record tying on 9 consecutive playoff appearances.

“When the Colts won their Super Bowl in 2006, they couldn’t stop anyone on the ground during the regular season, but by the time the playoffs rolled around they were able to turn that completely around and looked like a completely different defensive unit. They won the Super Bowl that year as much because of their defensive play as anything that Manning and the offense did. Sure they had to outscore the Patriots in the 38-34 in the AFC Championship game, but I think people forget that in the AFC Wildcard round they held the Kansas Chiefs to 8 points and won a defense only game in the AFC Divisional round against the Baltimore Ravens, 15-6.

Mike was also able to make a direct analogy to the Colts all to common roster composition deficiencies with this year's 2010 Colts team.

“The Colts certainly had their share of injuries this year. That’s going to happen to every team at some point, but you just can’t give up the year when it does. As much as anyone that was hurt, they missed safety Bob Sanders. They had a lot of money tied up in Sanders, but the guy once again couldn’t stay on the field and it was among their biggest  problems. Peyton and the Colts offense put up points in nearly every attempt to score in the Wildcard game against the New York Jets. The Jets forced the Colts to punt only one time the entire game, but the Colts couldn’t stop the run and Peyton’s touches were limited. And to compound the problem, the Colts couldn’t defend on special teams."

Interestingly, Cardano makes a point that that Colts have arguably the top quarterback in the game and the arguably the top place kicker in the game yet, the it didn’t equal success.

“Special teams is much more than just having an outstanding place kicker,” said Cardano. “Peyton Manning did his job Sunday, Adam Vinatieri did his, but it wasn’t enough. Look at their special teams play; does anyone not think the Colts would have won last week’s game against the Jets without the two kick returns from Antonio Cromartie? That 47 yard kick return with less than a minute to go in the game was as big a play in that game as there was. The funny thing is that very few ‘NFL stars’ making top money on either team were even on the field for it.”

This core group of Colts has to be very disappointed in last year’s Super Bowl loss. Not so much because they lost, but they know that was their chance to legitimatize their run. Winning two makes all the difference, it makes you a defining team in that era. Look at the, Atlanta Braves. From 1991-2005 the Braves won 14 division titles in a row, yet they only had one Worlds Series Championship to show for it and people rarely talk about them as an all time great group.

This year the Indianapolis Colts tied the Dallas Cowboys for the most consecutive playoff appearances with 9; but they only have one championship to show for it. The Colts have a very small window here with Peyton Manning being able to physically be an elite quarterback; I would say 4-5 years tops. The Colts need to guard against becoming known as the Atlanta Braves of the NFL. - Brain James

Brian is an independent sports journalist covering major professional sports for over 25 years.

You may email Brian at

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