INDIANAPOLIS – Less than a week before the start of training camp, Jim Irsay had a lot to share on Thursday afternoon.
Irsay is about to hand out some serious money to a pair young of pillars.
He will be front and center in Canton for the Hall of Fame inductions of Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James.
And his 2021 football team, one with high expectations, could be at a disadvantage in one area this year.
Here are Irsay’s thoughts on all of that:
On the Colts being one of the lower COVID-19 vaccinated teams in the NFL:
“Well, certainly we have worked with the players union very closely to try and develop the proper criteria to set the stage for competitive balance and encourage the right sort of things. I mean I can say that, I’m not going to give specifics out literally, but I can say we are over 50 percent of being vaccinated on that side of things and headed hopefully towards 100 percent because look it, as a father, as a grandfather knowing and having loved ones of all different ages from babies to all sorts of people that I know – I can only say look it, you can get into the debate club all you want to but it’s one of those things where logic has it. You get vaccinated. It’s the best choice. All choices have risks, there’s no question, and you respect the personal choice that people have out there for their health, but it just makes the most sense. I don’t think – you could take this topic to Harvard and Yale debate club and whoever got the side of arguing that vaccination is the most intelligent and logical thing to do at this point. I don’t think you could argue against that. There is always risk in everything in life, but getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. It’s crazy right now to see people dying in hospitals because they wouldn’t get vaccinated. Then of course the internet spreads all sorts of crazy rumors. People come up with unfounded theories that has no scientific data, no medical data to back it at all. It’s an aspect of the society we live in with how people spend a lot of their time on their phones. The internet has a lot of so-called experts out there and it’s misleading. But it’s the times that we’re in in 2021. I just encourage all of our guys to get vaccinated. It’s the right thing to do and we’re trending in the right direction and we’re hoping to continue that as the summer goes along.”
On if the approach from the NFL is impacting the motivation of players to get vaccinated:
“I think you have to be fair to everyone. When you say the league, you have to say the league and the (NFL) Players Association because we work so closely together. No one is trying to be punitive or anything like that. Simply, if your choice is not to get vaccinated, it’s going to be a much more difficult season. You’re going to be isolated more, you’re not going to be able to socialize, do the normal things, and you’re going to have to be encumbered with the mask. Different things are there, but it’s not for punishment. It’s for the safety of the others who have been vaccinated and for the safety of everyone. It’s not a question of leveraging someone into getting vaccinated. With the freedom of choice out there, if you’re not vaccinated, you have to have rules of engagement that are fair for everyone. I think that’s where all of these things try to aim at. Not to try to leverage or be punitive to someone who chooses not to.”
On the level of concern with the lower vaccinated numbers on the roster (just over 50 percent):
“There is always a concern level. I think that myself and Chris (Ballard) and Coach (Frank Reich), we’re doing everything we can, including some team leaders, to try to get everyone vaccinated. It’s professional football, we’re here to win. I know what it means to get into a position to possibly win and have something go sideways on you, like an injury and this is somewhat similar to that. How heartbreaking it is and I don’t want to see us get in that position. It’s always tough to win in the National Football League. It’s hard to win and it’s really hard to win big. It’s just because of reasons like this. You have to make choices and you have to decide. Am I in this to win a championship and what price am I willing to pay? That’s what it really comes down to. Someone pays a higher price, they’re going to take it from you. That’s just the way it is. This is professional football. I look at it that way. I go into it saying, ‘I’m going to do anything I can to help us win football games within the rules and that’s just the kind of competitor I am. I’m very competitive and I want guys that are competitive. I want guys that are willing to pay the price for victory and to step up and that sort of thing. Again, this falls into that category but it’s an unusual situation. We’ve never had this sort of thing almost in the history of the league. So we’re in kind of uncharted territory. Sure, it’s a concern. It’s hard to win and we all know the difference, one game can slight things. ‘Well if you would have won the opening Jacksonville game, how would that have tilted the season? You would have been division champions.’ You can play that game all you want but it always comes down to those small increments, those details. Those are the things that make champions. Tampa won it all because they were willing to give the most to achieve victory.”
On what the Colts are doing to encourage players to get vaccinated:
“I think you do everything you possibly can, which is really talk to them. The team leaders that have been vaccinated, they have dialogue with the other players. The David Thorntons of the world and obviously Chris Ballard, Frank Reich, others, Dave Hammer – everyone tries to do their part to make a persuasive argument. Like I said before, it’s the right argument. It’s the right way to go. I didn’t understand some things last year, I’m not going to name names, but I see some players opt out. Why? You’re 23 years old, you’re going to opt out, you’re going to sit at home and isolate in an apartment? I don’t think so. They just miss a whole season, why? Because someone gave them bad advice. That’s the way it always goes. You have to be careful who you take counsel from. We’re trying to do our best to let guys know what we, no question, think is the right path to go down.”
On the pending contract extensions for Darius Leonard and Braden Smith:
“Well, we’re working on it. I think anytime you deal with extensions, I’ve been dealing with them for decades, it takes two to tango and there has to be a compromising aspect. It’s simply based on – you sign early and get protection against injury and get that sort of guarantee and that peace of mind, the team gets consideration of doing it early, and that blend has to be there to make it have sense. If the agent comes in and is asking for too much, it doesn’t work, and you just say we’ll wait. We have the (franchise) tag and that sort of thing. You can go in a different direction. But we’d really like to get it done with Darius (Leonard) and Braden (Smith) and they have to be, and I know they will be, their own men and look at where things are at and make that decision. We always give great deals to our players and it’s been that way going back 20 years. The extensions that we’ve signed and the players we’ve extended into their second contracts is a very, very long list. We’ve always dealt very fairly and tried to look at it from their point of view. So, we hope to get them done. We don’t have anything to report right now. We’d like to see both of those players get extensions before the season starts.”
On his expectations for the 2021 Colts:
“The expectations are really high and I think there are some injuries and some youth that you are looking to move through hopefully quicker than slower with two Achilles that we’re dealing with and just the youthfulness of this draft because quite frankly, when I look at that defense and I look at what it can be with that type of front seven and certainly with Kenny (Moore II) and other guys in the secondary that I think is a much improved and underrated secondary. I see a really, really special defense. I see a great offensive line with two great backs and, obviously we’re all looking to see how Carson (Wentz) is going to do and there is every reason to believe that he is going to be a great football player for the Colts. I’m really excited. We have to go out and prove it. There are so many good teams in the National Football League, you just look at your schedule and say, ‘Wow, they’re a good team, they’re a good team.’ Even though you’re an outstanding team, you’re playing outstanding teams. I really do think, I’ve always been a defensive person – I look back at that Bears ’85 team and that was something to see because you are just going to a street fight and you knew the question was is it going to be over in 10 seconds or 40 seconds. Those guys just dominated and played such tough, physical football that it was unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like it since. I always have that vision because I see the hurricane on one side and I see Kwity (Paye) on the other side, I know DeForest (Buckner), I know Darius (Leonard) and the other young players that are up and rising with this defense. Man I have to tell you, I do believe defenses win championships. You have to have the quarterback and other things. You have to have it all of course to win it all. But great defenses take you a long way and they take you a long way if you have to go on the road and it’s cold and so I’m really encouraged and I’m really excited and I’m very excited about Carson. He is in such a great place, he is so excited. He is absolutely in the type of place you want your quarterback to be in. He is really excited and in a groove and he can’t have a better coach in Frank Reich. So, I’m really excited. Only time will tell and it’s a long season, that sort of thing. I can talk for a long time about Jonathan Taylor or Nyheim (Hines) or having T.Y. (Hilton) back or the offensive line, etc., etc. – about my fellow SMU Mustang tight end coming in who I think is going to be very special. Time will tell but I’m very excited.”
On appreciated the 2000s even more with Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James going for Hall of Fame induction in two weeks:
“I really appreciated it then as well. I tell the story, I specifically remember like it’s yesterday, I just crystalized it in my mind – Peyton (Manning), Marvin (Harrison) and Edgerrin (James) were all together on an away big national televised road game about to come out of the tunnel, when it was just quiet right before you entered the field and you could just see 88, 32 and 18 and they were about to go out and we were introducing our offense and I just locked that picture in my mind because you probably won’t see it ever again. You have a tremendous appreciation about how hard it is to win and win the way we won. I always talk about this as well, we were such a popular team. People loved the Colts and they loved the players and what they represented on and off the field. That’s really important to me too, the way they represented the Horseshoe the way they did.”