News out of Indianapolis is that the Colts have hired former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as the team’s new head coach. This could help re-shape the AFC South and turn it in the direction of becoming a defense-heavy division much like the NFC North. The Houston Texans are the most recent team to change their dynamic with Wade Phillips taking over defensive duties last year. However, Pagano’s hiring could do more to shake things up in the division than Phillips did.
Pagano and Peyton Manning
Colts QB Peyton Manning has been, for all intents and purposes, the major reason for the shake-up in Indianapolis. The Colts, it seems, are barely able to function without Manning, let-alone win games. His season-negating surgery last year spelled gloom and doom for the Colts who finished last season with their worst record (2-14) in 20 years.
Jim Irsay, the Colts owner, has a difficult decision to make this year when it comes to Manning. Irsay can keep Manning, let him leave for another team, or point him on his way to retirement. Now, with Pagano on the scene, things could be turning even darker in the Manning era.
According to Manning, in an interview with Doug Farrar,
"It’s not a real good environment down there [Colts’ front office] right now, to say the least. Everybody’s walking around on eggshells. I don’t recognize our building right now. There’s such complete and total change."
For Pagano the focus will most likely be on rebuilding the defense first. This could spell trouble for Manning who is no longer under the protection of his biggest fan, Bill Polian. If Pagano comes in with a Ravens mindset then the Colts will assuredly become a defense-first team with a mediocre quarterback.
Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts Veterans
WR Reggie Wayne (11 yrs) and DL Robert Mathis (10 yrs) are both veteran players who could become possible victims of the Pagano hiring. While Pagano had proven faithful to his veterans in Baltimore, that was when he was a coordinator and not the head coach.
Depending on how much “noise” he plans on making Pagano could cut some strings attached to players who have been around for a while. Wayne and Mathis are at the top of that list and could be two of his first victims. All of this depends, of course, on what happens with Manning. Should Pagano decide to keep Manning, and his $28M price-tag, Wayne and Mathis will most likely be cut. However, if Pagano lets Manning walk he would have a better option of keeping the two veterans.
Or…imagine this if you will…he could let Manning go and let Wayne and Mathis go. Now while this idea sounds ludicrous I do not think that it is entirely out of the question either. This option would free up a ton of cap room, would allow him to start rebuilding his defense, and would allow him to pursue a more “long-term” quarterback for the future.
Pagano and the AFC South
With Pagano joining the ranks of the AFC South you can be assured that the landscape is about to change. He comes to the Colts with a great defensive mind. He is used to having players like ILB Ray Lewis, NT Haloti Ngata, and S Ed Reed. These are high-caliber defensive weapons who overhaul defenses. He will be looking to do the same thing with the Colts.
That being the case, next season could be interesting for the Houston Texans and the rest of the AFC South. The Texans became a defensive powerhouse this season and, assuming the Colts follow suit, there could be two defense-heavy teams in this division.
No matter what, the hiring of Chuck Pagano will reshape the Indianapolis Colts. This, in turn, could tilt the balance in the AFC South for the next decade. So, Houston Texans fans, be prepared – we could be in for some company!