By MICHAEL MAROT, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts are starting over. Completely.
Two days after releasing Peyton Manning, the longtime face of the franchise, the Colts announced they were cutting four fan favorites: running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett, safety Melvin Bullitt and tight end Dallas Clark. Quarterback Curtis Painter also was released Friday.
"All these players, we'd love to have them here," new general manager Ryan Grigson said during a hastily arranged conference call with reporters. "It's not easy. It's agonizing. They're (salary) cap casualties. It's hard, but with the money involved you can't do certain things."
This is the latest round in a massive housecleaning project that began two months ago when the Colts completed their worst season in two decades. Nobody is immune.
The father-son front office of Bill Polian, the architect of Indy's decade of success, and his son, Chris, was fired the day after the season. Coach Jim Caldwell and most of his staff lost their jobs, too.
On Wednesday, team owner Jim Irsay announced the biggest move of all — the release of Manning, the only four-time MVP in league history.
And now with shocked fans still getting accustomed to life without No. 18, Grigson unleashed another round of sweeping changes that almost certainly will rile up the fan base.
"It's really a tough deal, it's tough on all of us, especially Mr. Irsay," Grigson said. "Hopefully the fans understand that to achieve the success again that we have had before, we have to make some tough decisions."
This week's moves coupled with the list of those already scheduled to become free agents next week mean the Colts could have seven new starters on offense this fall. Those leaving could include Manning, Addai, Clark, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Ryan Diem and Jeff Saturday.
"These players all made tremendous contributions to the organization and will forever be members of the Colts family," owner Jim Irsay said in a statement issued by the team. "It's always difficult to make these decisions, which the nature of the salary cap requires."
And the moves may not be over yet. Grigson declined to comment on a report that Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney is on the trading block.
Grigson said injuries played no role in the latest moves and gave fans no timeline for when they could expect Indianapolis to make another playoff run.
The problem is that even with the cuts, the Colts might not have much cap room to sign free agents until next year.
"We are going to do our best. You'd love to go out with your shopping cart and go get the guys you like," Grigson said. "We are going to do the best we can under the circumstances we have right now."
Clearly, the Colts are looking to get younger after last season's dramatic crash.
Things unraveled in 2011 as Manning missed the entire season with a neck injury after signing a five-year, $90 million deal last July. The Sept. 8 medical procedure was the most recent of his multiple neck surgeries. Without him, the Colts lost their first 13 games and finished 2-14.
The reward for that sorry performance was the No. 1 pick in next month's draft, a choice the team is expected to use on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Whether it's Luck or someone else running the offense, things will look different on both sides of the ball.
Addai piled up 4,453 yards rushing and 39 touchdowns over six seasons in Indianapolis, making the Pro Bowl in 2007. Clark spent nine years with the Colts, setting team records and creating a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as he caught 427 passes for 4,887 yards and 46 touchdowns. He became the second tight end in NFL history to tally 100-plus receptions and was chosen for the Pro Bowl in 2009.
Brackett and Bullitt, like Manning, were team captains.
Brackett spent nine seasons in Indy and finished with 754 tackles (448 solo), four sacks and 12 interceptions. Bullitt, a five-year veteran of the Colts, had 189 tackles (122 solo), seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven passes defensed.
Painter, a sixth-round draft pick in 2009, played sparingly until 2011, when he made eight starts as the Colts desperately tried to find a replacement for Manning. In all, he was 140 of 271 for 1,624 yards, six touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 60.6 quarterback rating.
And most, if not all of the players, were prominent in the community, too.
That will make it even harder for the fans to accept.
"What is wrong with the colts one bad season and you cut the whole team! I will never go to another colts game!! (hash)unhappycoltsfan tweeted Pacers guard George Hill, who grew up in Indianapolis and played college ball at IUPUI in the city.
"They're tremendous players that meant so much to the franchise, so it's been rough," Grigson said. "I respect them all as players, they've all been great in the community and they were all home-raised here. They are Colts and they always will be Colts.
But Grigson said it was the only way the Colts could make a fresh start.
"We looked at the options and we've done everything we can," he said when asked if they could have redone some deals to keep the cornerstone players. "It is what it is, and you know how this business is. It's tough."
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