Jim Irsay: With healthy Luck, Colts a 'pretty formidable team'

Andrew Luck has missed 26 games over the past three seasons and, to no surprise, the Colts have missed the playoffs in each of those seasons. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has rarely had to worry about any of this.

The rebuilding. The overhaul of the coaching staff. A general manager change. The franchise quarterback saddled with injuries for three seasons. The losing.

Irsay's patience -- rightfully so -- has been tested the past three seasons. The Colts have gone from being a playoff regular to currently being in the longest postseason drought -- three years -- since he took over as owner of the team more than 20 years ago.

"It's been disappointing obviously," Irsay said. "You're at .500 and there are a lot of teams that are trying to promote and say we're good enough to be .500 this year. That's unacceptable here. This is a place where champions are walking these halls. We have a great alumni base that's been built here that have come to our aid."

It's anybody's guess when the Colts will get back to the playoffs -- so much will depend on Andrew Luck's health -- but Irsay believes his franchise is finally "back on track" in its not-so-subtle rebuilding project that started with the firing of general manager Ryan Grigson in January 2017.

"There's still holes in the roster, still areas we have to strengthen up and we don't question that, but man oh man, I tell you, we're a lot better of a football team," Irsay said on the final day of the draft on April 28. "It's going to be interesting to see how much better we are. Look, I'll be honest with you, if Andrew Luck, if he's healthy and we think he will be, we're going to have a pretty formidable football team. That's just the bottom line."

Receiver Chester Rogers said, "This is what a real organization feels likes."

General manager Chris Ballard has spent the past 15 months working to reshape the roster the way he envisions it. There are only 21 players from Grigson's reign currently still on the roster. Ballard has been a thrifty free-agent spender while focusing on the draft, where he addressed both lines early on before skill position players. The Colts selected a franchise-record 11 players, including guard Quenton Nelson at No. 6.

"I'm stubborn in this now," Ballard said about his free-agency and draft approach. "I mean I am, and I really believe that the majority of your team needs to be built through your own guys. Am I against free agency? No, I'm not, but we want to be able to get a core group of young players that really make up the locker room and really define what we stand for, how we play, how we work, that are good, successful players for the Colts. Then it makes it a little easier to plug a free agent in.

"Not that we don't have a great young [core]. We need to add young talent, and it needs to grow up and be Colts for four or five years and that will help you when you eventually dive into free agency. It helps you assimilate those guys into your culture."

Ballard, after being left at the altar at the 11th hour by Josh McDaniels, may have found a better fit in coach Frank Reich, who spent the past two years as Philadelphia's offensive coordinator and shares the same vision as Ballard when it comes to the next steps to take on their path to becoming one of the NFL's elite teams again.

Irsay knows the value of strong quarterback play. He watched as Peyton Manning threw for nearly 55,000 yards and 200 touchdowns while leading the franchise to the playoffs 11 times and the Super Bowl twice -- winning one -- in 13 seasons with the organization.

That's why it's important for the Colts to have Luck back. They've had three healthy seasons and three playoff appearances, including reaching the AFC Championship Game, with Luck. The quarterback has missed 26 games over the past three seasons and, to no surprise, the Colts have missed the playoffs in each of those seasons.

There's plenty of optimism inside the organization that Luck, who didn't play a snap last season, will be ready to go for the start of 2018 after they've handled his shoulder rehabilitation delicately to avoid any more setbacks. The magic man, as Irsay has called Luck, has repeatedly proven he has the ability to mask any of the team's flaws when he's healthy.

"I wish we could stay on top every year. I wish we could be in the playoffs every year," Irsay said. "You're always going to talk about your franchise quarterback when he's got the excellence Andrew brings. And it was almost as if it was put on hold for a second. It was rolling out. But it was put hold. But look at it, he's young and we believe he can play at least a decade.

"I feel like that having a great young general manager like Chris Ballard, being fortunate enough to turn this thing around and get this in the hands of Frank Reich, who is just ideal for what this franchise needs after having won a Super Bowl in Philadelphia and what Andrew needs being a quarterback, I couldn't be more excited. It's tough to lose. It's very tough to lose."