Jim Irsay opens up about the process that led the Colts to Anthony Richardson

INDIANAPOLIS — Three hours before the start of the first round of the draft Thursday night, Anthony Richardson’s phone buzzed. Jim Irsay started directing.

“You can’t share this call with anyone,” the Colts owner told him. “The fact that I call you.”

Irsay wanted to know a few things, starting with this: What did Richardson hear? The Florida quarterback and top-10 prospect was spending the afternoon on the biggest day of his life doing exactly what many assume: wait…and wait…and wait.

In a few hours, he will find out where his career will begin.

Colts owner Jim Irsay addresses the media on Saturday. (James Boyd / athlete)

Richardson tells Irsay that he has heard that one of the two teams is very interested in him.

“Did they call today?” asked the owner.

Richardson told him, “No.”

“Well, there’s a good chance you’ll come to Indy in three hours,” said Irsay.

He couldn’t guarantee it, not with the Colts picking fourth, but that was the team’s goal, as it had been for months. Irsay admitted Saturday that he has had his eye on Richardson since February, and even if his team had the first overall pick, the option would be the same.

For the Colts, Richardson was all along.

“This young man has something special in his heart, soul and soul,” Ersay said.

Colts 2023 Class Draft

Round pick player position college

1-4

Anthony Richardson

quarterback

fl

2-44

Julius Prentice

noon corner

Kansas State

3-79

Josh Downs

wide future

North Carolina

4-106

Blake Vreeland

offensive tackle

BYU

4-110

Adetomiwa Adebawore

Defensive tackle

North West

5-138

Darius Rush

noon corner

South Carolina

5-159

Daniel Scott

safety

California

5-162

Will Mallory

tight end

Miami

5-176

Evan Hull

running back

North West

6-211

Titus Leo

defensive end

Wagner

7-221

Jaylon Jones

noon corner

Texas A&M

7-237

Jake Witt

offensive tackle

Northern Michigan

But just over three hours after that phone call, the Colts’ water intake room became tense. Two quarterbacks—Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud—were already off the plate, and the Colts knew Arizona would likely trade from third. The fear was another team coming to get their man, right in front of them. And Irsay admitted Indy’s “dream goal” was to stay fourth and continue to drop Richardson without giving up any compensation.

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It was a gamble, and the stakes were huge. Irsay has been waiting for this night for three years, and he desperately wants to revive his franchise around the talents of his young quarterback.

And for a few anxious moments in that draft room, the idea crossed everyone’s mind. Were the Colts about to lose their shot at him?

“Of course there was tension,” Irsay admitted.

But something in the Colts’ owner oozes calm. He turned to his daughters.

He told them “we’ll be fine”.

It turns out that it was the Texans who traded to Arizona. The selection was Alabama rusher Will Anderson.

Irsai was right. The ponies were just fine. The room went out, and Richardson had them.

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After nearly 48 hours, the Colts’ owner recaptured the night that could end up reshaping his franchise, unveiling the process and conversations that underpinned the decision. One noteworthy revelation from the owner: If Richardson hadn’t been available at fourth, the Colts would have gone with Kentucky’s Will Levis.

That would have definitely saved Levis a lot of waiting. He fell all the way in the second round before the Titans took him at #33.

One of the defining moments in the process has been the prolonged sit-down between Irsay and his new coach, Shane Steichen, in recent weeks. Throughout the process, Steichen’s voice carried a lot of weight in the Colts’ thinking—in Irsay’s mind, it’s Steichen’s offense, and he calls plays, so the coach should have his say on who the future quarterback is.

For Shin, it should have been for him man,” said the owner.

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In that meeting a few weeks before the draft, Irsay did not back down, prompting Steichen to explain why Richardson had improved as a passer and why he believed his play would eventually catch up to his massive potential.

The owner had questions, such as why Richardson started so few games in college.

Irsay also asked, “Why do you think he could be an outstanding passer in this league?”

As much as Irsay and everyone in the Colts personnel department loves Richardson’s athletic ability—the owner called him a “superhero” several times on Saturday—this was an important layer in the team’s evaluation. The ability to scramble is great, smashing plays that end up moving chains and instilling doubt in the defense, but Irsay knows winning from the pocket is still paramount in this league, and he knows Richardson has to prove he can do it.

“I’ve seen enough to really feel he could become one,” Steichen assured his boss.

Another call Irsay made was for former Colts head coach Brad White, who is now the defensive coordinator at Kentucky. White took a front row seat to not only Levi’s two seasons in Lexington but also Richardson’s start against the Wildcats last season, his worst season of the year. Richardson finished with 21 incompletions, just 143 passing yards and two interceptions in the 26-16 loss.

White spoke of Richardson’s toughness and maturity. And since he knows many of the coaches on the Florida crew, he shared some of the conversations he had with them.

“They just love the kid,” White told Irsay. “They only think of the world of that young man, everyone I talk to.”

The last post-selection meeting came after the Colts eclipsed the third pick on Thursday, then landed the future linebacker position. Irsay welcomed Richardson and his family to town, flying them from Kansas City on his private jet. The quarterback sat in Irsay’s spacious office, just feet away from the half-dozen guitars of the multi-million dollar and gleaming Lombardi Trophy that the Colts won after the 2006 season.

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Also on hand was the Colts’ last quarterback selected, Edgerrin James. A career that began in 1999 has culminated with a place in the Hall of Fame in 2021.

Irsay looked at Richardson at one point and told him, “You’ve been playing 12 or 14 years in this league and you’re a great quarterback, you’re going to make a billion dollars. A one billion. a one billion. “

But the owner had more to say.

He told him: “This is something your family, your legacy, your generations will go to, but what about greatness? What about the Rings? What about Lombardi? What about your legacy as a footballer?”

I turned to James.

“You know, I was just in Canton with this guy…”

Irsay point: If it was your sport that got you this far, it’s your quarterback play that will define your legacy in this league.

“We talked about him being a great midfielder and what that really means in this league,” the owner said on Saturday. “We don’t draft Olympic athletes. We draft football players, and in this case, a quarterback.”

The most important question at this juncture is when will Richardson see the field?

Irsay said it would be Steichen’s call. But deep down, the owner hinted that he wanted a glimpse into the future as soon as possible.

“You get better by playing,” Irsay said on Saturday. “You know, that’s the biggest benefit of that. At the same time, I have to say, our fans have to be patient because it’s hard being a rising midfielder. It really is.”

Richardson’s time will come, whether it’s Week 1, Week 8, or next season. It is the future, that awaits Irsay, who hopes to change everything in Indianapolis.

“His development into a great, great player in this league will determine where we go,” said the owner.

It was always about the quarterback here. The Colts finally have one to build around.

(Top photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images)

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