FOXBOROUGH – On Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, everything but pen and paper had solidified what we all thought would be the next elite pairing in the NFL – Josh McDaniels and the Indianapolis Colts. But just a few hours after a press conference was announced regarding the signing of McDaniels to become the new head coach of the Colts, the now 42-year-old offensive coordinator opted out and decided to stay in New England.
Many were stunned by this decision, especially those in the Indianapolis organization who thought they had their next big-time head coach who could lead Andrew Luck and the Colts to what may be multiple championships in the near future. Indianapolis was the last organization in the league to sign a head coach in the 2018 offseason. But that following Wednesday morning all they had to show for it was an incomplete staff of position coaches, a coordinator, and no one to lead them.
“Although we are surprised and disappointed, we will resume our head coaching search immediately and find the right fit to lead our team and organization on and off the field,” the Colts said in a statement following the McDaniels news.
Matt Nagy had signed with the Bears. Mike Vrabel had signed with the Titans. Matt Rhule had already announced he would be staying in the collegiate ranks before the decision was made as to who the Colts wanted to hire.
So who was left?
Luckily, another very capable candidate was still available for hire. Super Bowl LII winner and offensive coordinator for the Eagles, Frank Reich, had been thought highly of by Indianapolis’ GM Chris Ballard, and after all was said-and-done Ballard offered Reich the head coaching job under the stipulation that Reich keep the coaching staff that McDaniels had hired before backing out at the altar, which consisted of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, and defensive line coach Mike Phair.
Reich agreed to the terms, and though it wasn’t their first option, the Colts had their next head coach. Little did the organization know, their second decision turned out to be their best decision, and McDaniels’ decision turned out to be the wrong one that would doom the Patriots.
“Just because you’re the first choice doesn’t mean you’re the best choice.” – Ballard on McDaniels backing out of the head coaching job.
Fast forward to January of 2019, Indianapolis is currently one of the hottest teams still in the playoffs after starting the regular season 1-5, finishing 9-1 over their last 10 games and dominating the Texans in the Wild Card round of the postseason by a score of 21-7. Their team looks drastically better than predicted by many heading into the season (a bevy of preseason rankings had them as one of the worst or the worst team in the NFL).
So how have the Colts found so much success when much wasn’t expected of them in 2018?
Well, for starters, let’s talk about the coaching staff. Frank Reich has proven to be a fantastic leader of men, not only leading Indianapolis to the playoffs for the first time in four years but doing such after an abysmal 1-5 start to the season. The Colts are only the 3rd team since the AFC-NFL merger in 1970 to make the playoffs after starting the season with one win through six games.
Heading into the season, some of the weakest groupings on the team were the offensive and defensive lines, and the defense overall. It just so happens that those three positions drastically improved in 2018, and the three coaches that guide those areas of the football team were brought to Indianapolis by none other than McDaniels. Then there is Reich’s offensive scheme that has allowed Andrew Luck to thrive and have an MVP-esque season along with a run game that has sprung to life with 2017 fourth-round pick Marlon Mack bursting onto the scene as the lead back.
Meanwhile, in New England, the Patriots’ three best offensive weapons have dialed it back this season. Though Tom Brady still is one of the best quarterbacks in football, he is 41-years-old and is without a doubt in the backend of his career. Rob Gronkowski is nothing but a shell of himself, and Julian Edelman, though still very productive, is beginning to feel the pressure now that there are no other strong weapons around him in the passing game. There seems to be no real plan in place from what we saw last offseason via free agency and the draft to replace those players, or at least put talent around them, with the exception of the failed Josh Gordon experiment. So as New England is still alive in the playoffs as well and has a very strong chance of making it to the Super Bowl, they virtually will be going into the offseason with more questions than answers no matter the outcome of their postseason run.
For the Colts, they have the most estimated cap room available by any NFL team this upcoming offseason ($118.6 million) which means their team will likely be even better next year. That’s pretty scary from other AFC teams’ perspectives considering Indianapolis’ season isn’t over yet and we’re in the 2nd week of January. They also have a ton of team-friendly contracts thanks to cheap and/or young talent that they have accumulated over the past two seasons, which means they will have room to resign/add talent not just in 2019, but beyond.
New England, on the other hand, will have an estimated $25 million dollars to spend next offseason. The Patriots are never ones to spend a lot of money to resign players or add free agents. But it is nevertheless concerning to see their cap figures heading into this offseason when they are in a win-now mode and need to add some talent that doesn’t require too much developing.
So, you (being the Patriots fan that you may be) think that Indy should send McDaniels a thank you card for hiring the three coaches on Reich’s staff that have helped significantly improve the Colts this season? Sure, you go right ahead and think that. But here is the reality of the situation:
All McDaniels did last offseason was helped build another franchises team in the right direction, while having not the ability to improve the one he ended up going back to. So if you really want to thank McDaniels, make sure it is filled with sarcasm, because all he really did was make New England’s path to another championship over the next few years that much more difficult.
The BIGPLAY Podcast
live wednesday nights @ 8:30pm