INDIANAPOLIS – Has the owner of the Indianapolis Colts finally demanded that Chris Ballard alter the GM’s prudent approach to free agency?
We know Irsay has promised his fan base changes following an embarrassing end to the 2021 season.
As the Colts have watched pass centric offenses and pressure-filled defensive fronts make playoff runs, Indianapolis has been at home, despite having the the league’s best running back.
It begs a totally fair question: Are the Colts built the right way? Does the Ballard blueprint need tweaking?
Even Ballard acknowledges it’s something he’s pondered.
“I’ve thought a lot about that,” the GM said about his roster building approach at the close of the 2021 season. “I still believe you win the game up front. I think that’s proven. That is something I don’t think will ever change in my belief system. You have to be good on the O-line and D-line. You have to be. You have to get good quarterback play. Then the rest of your playmakers have to do their jobs.
“I was listening to somebody talk the other day and I thought it was really good. You can have really deep conviction in how you think things need to be built and run and also have the curiosity and flexibility to change along the way. I think we’ve done that. Because we are a very curious group. We ask questions. We want to grow. And I think we’ve had some flexibility moments. I know people feel we haven’t done anything. But we traded for (DeForest) Buckner, we’ve traded for Carson (Wentz). We’ve made moves. Whether they were right or wrong, we’ve made moves to make the team better being aggressive. So we will examine that. But one thing I will not change on is you win up front, O-line, D-line. I thought it was showing until the last two weeks. It’s hard to overcome when those two things aren’t there.”
Whether Ballard wants to admit it or not, the Colts activity in free agency has not been at a very high level, particularly when you consider the substantial cap space they’ve had in prior offseasons.
Heading into next month’s start to free agency, the Colts have more than $40 million available in cap space.
In using some of that on their own free agents, the list of in-house free agents shouldn’t eat up too much of that money.
Will another failed season in winning the AFC South, and continuing to be a middle of the pack team in the AFC have Ballard altering his roster building approach?
“I think you all know my philosophy on free agency,” Ballard said last month. “I think it all depends on who the player is. Does he fit us? Just to go sign a free agent because you all are clamoring for one, I think we know some of the suggestions in the past. Those would have been really good…
“I think it’s a case-by-case basis of what we want to do. I don’t think signing big-name free agents always equates to winning. It’s signing the right free agents that equates to winning.”
In looking at the Bengals representing the AFC at the Super Bowl, you have a team who took a jump from drafting 5th overall last year to being in the final game of the season thanks to the help of some key spring free agents last year.
That pales in comparison to the Colts, who didn’t have a single starter in their season finale loss to the Jaguars come via a spring free agency signing, which is the most important part of the offseason to find proven talent.
When Ballard has used free agency, he’s found some important answers (i.e. Denico Autry, Eric Ebron, Justin Houston).
But the business of acquiring players during that time of the year has often kept Ballard from being too active.
It played into not re-signing Autry last spring, despite him being at a position of need, one that Ballard desires to have ample depth in. Yet, the Colts let Autry go to their division rival, with Ballard pointing to the lack of DL depth as an issue from last season.
The Colts now enter an offseason without a first-round pick in 2021, which should add to the importance of exploring free agency next month.
Does that mean Ballard is prepared to do some things differently as he enters his 6th offseason of constructing the Colts?
“The great thing about this league, there’s always a solution,” the GM says. “There is. It’s our job to problem solve and find the solution. It might not be the perfect solution. It might not be the long-term solution, but there’s a solution every year.
“There’s a little timing and luck of sometimes getting the long-term solutions to certain positions but there’s a solution for that year coming up. But that’s what we have to work towards.”
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