Chris Ballard vs Ryan Grigson: Part II

Welcome to Part II of the Chris Ballard vs Ryan Grigson series.  To read Part I of the series, check it out right here. In part I, we saw how Ballard and Grigson added a handful of playmakers on offense and defense. Although both general managers had masterful off-seasons in their first year, Grigson was able to get the nod by finding difference-makers compared to Ballard finding solid starters.  As the series continues, you will see trends emerge in the differing draft strategies. Grigson started to focus more on free agency and veterans whereas Ballard focused on the draft and building a culture.

Chris Ballard vs Ryan Grigson: Part II

After going 11-5, Grigson went into win-now mode by hitting free agency hard and trading away future draft picks.  Andrew Luck was better than anyone anticipated so the Colts tried taking advantage of his cheap contract. In 2018, Ballard was dipping into free agency with specific targets in mind but focused on accumulating young talent.  Luck came back healthy in 2018 so there was an expected improvement by the team overall.  Today, we will go over their second seasons: Grigson in 2013 and Ballard in 2018.

Ryan Grigson 2013 Season: A Disaster

Signings

Guard Donald Thomas: four years, $14,000,000

Thomas was a spot starter for the New England Patriots before coming to the Colts.  He was considered an underrated signing at the time.  However, his time with the Colts lasted only two games due to injuries.  This signing was a setback for the Colts offensive line.  Thomas was cut after two years. NEGATIVE SIGNING

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: two years, $8,000,000

Hasselbeck did not start a game during his two-year contract with the Colts, but the knowledge and experience as a backup tutoring Andrew Luck were priceless.  POSITIVE SIGNING 

Cornerback Greg Toler: three years, $15,000,000

Toler was another spot starter that was given starter money. This is a trend you will continue seeing with Ryan Grigson. Toler was a below-average cornerback for the Colts who was consistently getting beat down the field.  NEGATIVE SIGNING

Cornerback Darius Butler: two years, $4,000,000

Butler was signed to be a depth cornerback but found a home working in the slot. He was one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league. During his two-year contract, he was able to rack up 22 pass breakups and eight interceptions with three of them returned for TDs. POSITIVE SIGNING

Strong safety Laron Landry: four years, $24,000,000

Landry broke out on a one-year contract with the New York Jets the prior year and cashed in with the Colts. At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, the Colts wanted Landry to be the next Bob Sanders. Landry was a liability in pass coverage and consistently took bad angles and missed tackles in the box. After two years, he was cut. NEGATIVE SIGNING

Tackle Gosder Cherilus: five years, $35,000,000

Cherilus played in 75 out of 80 games for the Detroit Lions. The best thing about Cherilus was his availability and consistency. However, his consistency did not meet his contract. Cherilus was one of the highest-paid right tackles in the NFL. NEGATIVE SIGNING

Defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois: four years, $22,000,000

RJF was another spot starter that was signed to a major contract. In four years, he accumulated only three sacks.  He was a late-round draft pick that fits perfectly as a depth player. However, on the Colts, he was paid to be a difference-maker. Even during his time with the Colts, he only generated five and a half sacks. RJF was cut after two years. NEGATIVE SIGNING

Edge rusher Erik Walden: four years, $16,000,000

At the beginning of the 2013 free agency period, Walden received a big contract for an EDGE player who did not rush the passer effectively. However, Walden was a solid secondary pass rusher behind Robert Mathis for the majority of his time with the Colts. In four years, Walden racked up 23 sacks and 110 tackles. Another positive to Walden’s game is his ability to set the edge against the run. POSITIVE SIGNING

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw: one year, $2,000,000

Unfortunately, Bradshaw suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3. He was on a good start to the season averaging four and a half YPC on 41 carries. He would soon sign another contract with the Colts to continue his tenure. NEUTRAL SIGNING

*Colts claimed TE Jack Doyle off waivers*

Draft

#24 Overall Pick: Edge rusher Björn Werner
#86 Overall Pick: Guard Hugh Thorton
#121 Overall Pick: Center Khaled Holmes
#139 Overall Pick: Defensive tackle Montori Hughes (Traded 2014 Fourth Round)
#192 Overall Pick: Free safety John Boyett
#230 Overall Pick: Running back Kerwynn Williams
#254 Overall Pick: Tight end Justice Cunningham

Draft Summary

Honestly, this is a terrible draft class.  It is very difficult to choose the best or noticeable player that contributed to the Colts. Other than the first three picks, all of the players were irrelevant. Thorton and Holmes were drafted to take over for Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn. Similarly, Werner was drafted to eventually take over for Erik Walden. However, none of the replacements worked out. This caused the Colts to suffer in the long-term due to an inability to replace aging veterans. NEGATIVE DRAFT

Trades

Running back Trent Richardson: 2014 First Round pick to Browns

This is arguably the worst trade in Colts history. Richardson averaged barely over three yards per carry in 29 games.  Players like Donald Brown, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Daniel “Boom” Herron consistently outplayed Richardson during his tenure with the Colts. Richardson’s lack of vision and inability to make something out of nothing was limiting the offense. After the 2014 season, the Colts cut their loss with Richardson.

Ballard 2013 Season: A Generational Shift

Signings

Defensive tackle Denico Autry: three years, $17,800,000

As a spot-starter with the Raiders, Autry was a versatile piece on the defensive line. He is a three-tech, gap penetrator that is athletic enough to bat down passes. Autry has started 25 games with the Colts adding in 12.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and 22 quarterback hits.  POSITIVE SIGNING

Tight end Eric Ebron: two years, $13,000,000

After busting in Detroit, Ebron broke out in Indy totaling 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. Surpassing all expectations in year one, his second year did not go as well due to injuries. Because of his first year, Ebron was definitely worth it. POSITIVE SIGNING

Guard Matt Slauson: one year, $2,000,000

Slauson was supposed to lead a young offensive line, but after an injury early in the year, he was forced to retire.  However, he stayed around to help coach up the young players which helped tremendously. POSITIVE SIGNING

Wide receiver Ryan Grant: one year, $5,000,000

It seems as if since Reggie Wayne retired, the Colts had been searching for a number two receiver. Ryan Grant was not the answer. NEGATIVE SIGNING

Cornerback Pierre Desir: one year, $1,750,000

After playing for half the season in 2017 with the Colts, Indy brought back Desir on a cheap one-year, “prove-it” contract. He became the team’s number one corner and had eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and an interception. POSITIVE SIGNING

*Claimed wide receiver Zach Pascal and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad off waivers*

Draft

#6 Overall Pick: Guard Quenton Nelson (#3 to Jets for #6, #37, #49, and 2019 Second Rounder)
#36 Overall Pick: Linebacker Darius Leonard
#37 Overall Pick: Guard Braden Smith
#52 Overall Pick: Defensive end Kemoko Turay (#49 to Eagles for #52 and #169)
#64 Overall Pick: Tyquan Lewis (#67 and #178 to Browns)
#104 Overall Pick: Nyheim Hines
#159 Overall Pick: Daurice Fountain (#140 to Raiders for #159 and #185)
#169 Overall Pick: Jordan Wilkins
#185 Overall Pick: Deon Cain
#221 Overall Pick: Matthew Adams
#235 Overall Pick: Zaire Franklin

Best Player in Draft: Quenton Nelson

It was picking hairs to choose the best player in the draft, but Nelson wins the tie-breaker because of how he transformed the outlook on this team. The Colts went from the worst offensive line in the league to one of the best in one off-season. The biggest change on the line was Quenton Nelson.  He is a difference-maker on the line and is already the best guard in the league shown by his All-Pro nomination in his first and second seasons. As a nasty player with a mean streak, there is not a thing Nelson does that isn’t elite.

Notable Player in Draft: Darius Leonard

A popular sports website ranked Leonard as “the worst pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.” One year and an All-Pro nomination later, it is obvious they did not know what they were talking about. Leading the league in tackles in his rookie year with 163 tackles and adding in 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, eight pass breakups, and four forced fumbles, Leonard was a complete linebacker. Leonard is an athletic freak and one of the leaders on this defense. His playstyle is perfect for today’s NFL and is one of the best off-the-ball linebackers in the game.

Rest of Draft

Even without Nelson and Leonard, this is still an impressive draft. Braden Smith became the team’s starting right tackle halfway through his rookie season. This helped the Colts offensive line improve to one of the best in the league. He is projected to be a starting tackle for the next 10 years. Kemoko Turay has not played to his full potential because of injuries, but he has shown to be a solid third-down pass rusher. Nyehim Hines ended up with 63 receptions, over 700 total yards, and four total TDs in his rookie season. Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin are special team aces.  In total, this is one of the best draft classes of all-time and changed the outlook of this team immensely.  POSITIVE DRAFT

Trades

The Colts did not have any trades worth mentioning involving players.  Their most noteworthy trade was trading Pick #3 for #6, and three Second Rounders.  POSITIVE TRADE

Chris Ballard vs Ryan Grigson: Year Two Comparisons

Grigson Quality Starters

  • Darius Butler
  • Erik Walden
  • Jack Doyle

Grigson Quality Depth

  • Ricky Jean-Francois
  • Matt Hasselbeck

Ballard Quality Starters

  • Denico Autry
  • Eric Ebron
  • Pierre Desir
  • Quenton Nelson
  • Darius Leonard
  • Braden Smith

Ballard Quality Depth

  • Kemoko Turay
  • Nyehim Hines
  • Jordan Wilkins
  • Mattew Adams
  • Zaire Franklin
  • Zach Pascal
  • Al-Quadin Muhammad

There is nothing Grigson could have done to outperform Ballard in his 2018 off-season. This is one of the best offseasons in Colts history. The only issue with Ballard in his first season was the lack of difference makers he brought in. He made up for that finding two All-Pros in the draft with several other contributors. Ballard began building a young core and the culture he was searching for with accountability and togetherness. Grigson dished out hefty free-agent contracts to players who did not deserve them. None of his draft picks panned out and most of his free agents were cut after two years.

Unfortunately for Grigson, it seems as if his 2013 season lead to a dysfunctional locker room without any direction or accountability. One of his downfalls to the 2013 season is the lack of depth on the roster. Looking at Ballard’s depth he added, this ensures the quality of play did not drop in case of injuries that always occur in the NFL.  Ironically, the Grigson-Colts and Ballard-Colts finished at 11-5, but when looking at the roster, it was evident which team had a better trajectory.

Chris Ballard vs Ryan Grigson Year Two: CHRIS BALLARD

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