January 30th, 2017 – Jim Irsay, the Colts’ owner, introduced Chris Ballard, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, as the organization’s new general manager late Monday afternoon in Indianapolis.
Jim Irsay Introduces Chris Ballard as Indianapolis Colts General Manager
Ballard, who was previously the director of pro personnel for the Chiefs, comes to the organization with a stellar history of drafting top-tier talent in Kansas City. The clear favorite for the position from the onset of the search for general managr, it will be interesting to see what Ballard does in his first stint at the positions in the National Football League. During the introduction, Irsay commented that “four out of the six” individuals who interviewed for the job will be general managers in the NFL very soon – this speaks highly not only of the talent pool of interviewees, but also of Ballard individually amongst the group.
Ballard took a very “group first” message to the podium in his introduction, focusing on the team instead of singling out any star players or positions. When asked about Andrew Luck, the Colts’ star young quarterback, Ballard had this to say:
“Let me say this, ’cause Andrew’s a great player, but it will never be about one guy,” Ballard said. “It’s about all 53 men in that locker room. It’s about all 63 men including the practice squad that we have. It will never be about one person, but always about the team.”
Expectations and the Future of the Administration
Ballard also addressed the high expectations of the fan base, the organization, and the former players who have previously worn the Colts uniform, saying that he was going to, “make you proud.” There may be some interesting ruminations from this statement, because soon after Ballard made mention of helping former players find their “life’s work.”
“I care about our ex-players in this game and want to help them find their life’s work,” Ballard stated.
What does this mean? At first glance this could be an allusion to recently retired star players (such as Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Robert Mathis) coming back to the team in either an administrative or coaching capacity; something that would undoubtedly engender the Colts’ fan base even more towards their new general manager.
When asked about what options he had coming into the process concerning the head coach position, Ballard was firm in his support of current head coach Chuck Pagano.
“No options needed, Chuck Pagano is a great football coach in the NFL,” Ballard emphasized. “Me and Chuck will make decisions together for the best interests of the Indianapolis Colts.”
A Struggling Defense
The obvious issue concerning the Colts looking into the 2017 season is the defense, which was for lack of a better term, disastrous in 2016. Ballard was reluctant to call out the defense during his introduction though, deflecting the issue and stating that he’d need to sit down and watch all 16 games from last year before addressing what the most pressing concern is for the roster. Later he did relay the old NFL mantra about what side of the football plays a huge role in winning the Super Bowl.
“Defense wins championships,” Ballard noted. “I know you got to score points, but I’ve been blessed to be in two places where we’ve been pretty special on defense (Chicago and Kansas City). It’s probably why I have such an admiration for Chuck because he’s a defensive head coach. In this league you win up front on the O-Line & D-Line, and if you don’t win up front then you don’t win in December and January.”
Ballard’s statement concerning the defensive line should be encouraging to Colts fans, as the Colts’ front seven ranked dead last in the league according to Pro Football Focus’s Michael Renner.
On Free Agency
One of Ryan Grigson’s more noticeable faults was his proclivity to make big, splashy signings through free agency and trades. While this did rarely end up with the Colts on the better end of the deal (Vontae Davis, Mike Adams), more often than not Grigson hurt the Colts more than helping them, squandering draft picks through ill-conceived trades (Trent Richardson) or salary cap money through irresponsible free agent signings (Arthur Jones, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Trent Cole to name a few).
Ballard seems to follow the more traditional approach of building success through the draft. When asked about the draft and free agency.
“You want to raise your own,” the new Colts general manager said. “We want to be a great drafting team. We want to have a sound structure in place where you’re producing great talent for the Colts. Now saying that, between street Free agents, waiver claims – we’ll get into Free Agency a little bit – but you can’t buy a locker room and you have to be careful when you enter Free Agency. But we’re going to get as many young players as you can to create a good roster.”
Ballard was not afraid to be self-deprecating during his press conference – a trait seen by some as sorely lacking from previous general manager Ryan Grigson – stating point blank that he was probably not completely ready to be an NFL general manager. Ballard said that he’s going to make mistakes, but that he’ll own them, and that he’s got, “enough good people around me that they’re going to help guide me around the way, but I’ve never put the blame off and I’ll never put the blame off.”
For a franchise looking for a quick turnaround following two back-to-back 8-8 seasons, it looks like the arrow is finally trending in the right direction. A new general manager, willing to build through the draft, willing to admit to his mistakes, and focused on a “team first” mentality is exactly what the organization needs.
The Colts will hold either the 14th or 15th (dependent on a coin toss) selection in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft this April.