ESPN put out an interesting piece yesterday going over each NFL team’s most impactful move last off-season. For the Colts, they said this:
“The move: Replacing Ryan Grigson with Chris Ballard as general manager
The impact: The change amounted to hitting a reset button, breaking a cycle of shorter-term offseason moves. Ballard embarked on a more deliberate course with no quick-fix component to his thinking. The team would not throw money at flawed free-agent offensive linemen to patch long-running problems on the right side. There would be no splash moves in free agency or the trade market, but rather midlevel purchases. If quarterback Andrew Luck needed extra time to recover from his shoulder injury, so be it. Pull up a chair because this rebuild is going to take a while.”
Admittedly, I tend to disagree with most of what ESPN says about the Colts. However, this choice is spot on.
While there certainly have been some growing pains under Chris Ballard, especially recently with the odd Vontae Davis situation, Ballard is undoubtedly the most impactful move the Colts made. Sure, there have been some misses under Ballard, i.e., Zach Banner in the fourth round and the Brian Schwenke signing, but the overwhelming majority of his decisions have been positive for the Colts.
Ryan Grigson left the talent on this roster depleted with year after year of draft misses. Sadly, Grigson missed all over the draft as well, which is why the Colts opening roster this season had 26 new players on it. Grigson had no idea how to build a team, how to run a team and was overwhelmed by the pressure. It showed. I do feel for Grigson in a way because Luck changed the dynamic of being a rebuild to trying to win now. Grigson took unnecessary risks and overpaid free agents.
Ballard has taken a very different approach. He has built this team with low-cost, mid-level free agents on shorter contracts like Margus Hunt and Al Woods. When he has spent, it has paid off on the field. John Simon, Jabaal Sheard and Jonathan Hankins come to mind.
In the draft, Ballard did not reach. He let the board come to him and took Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson, Marlon Mack and Nate Hairston. Hairston particularly has shown how talented Ballard is at recognizing talent later in the draft. Grigson, in contrast, had little to no luck after Round 4, some would argue he didn’t have much luck after Luck. I cringe thinking about what Grigson would have done with this year’s draft. Would he have passed on a talent like Hooker, similar to how he passed on Landon Collins to take Phillip Dorsett? Thankfully, Ballard has shown he won’t do that.
Some commentators may take issue with the way in which Ballard has handled the Andrew Luck injury. I don’t buy it. Ballard and the Colts truly believed Luck would be back by Week 2, Week 4 at the latest. Should Ballard have gotten a better backup QB sooner? Probably. However, understanding the organization expected Luck to be back, I can see why they didn’t want to invest in a better backup QB. As Luck failed to progress as expected, Ballard made a move to get Jacoby Brissett by trading away a likely cut in Dorsett.
If anything, the way Ballard is not pushing Luck back before he is fully ready should be a breath of fresh air. Luck was injured in 2015 but Grigson and Pagano pushed Luck to play in an attempt to save their jobs. This likely caused more damage. You want a GM that tries to protect their franchise QB, even if that means protecting Luck from his desire to compete before he’s ready.
Another thing that should be mentioned is how Ballard is changing the culture within the organization. The Davis situation seems to be an outlier. Under Grigson, there was a fear within the building. You saw so many players speak up about Grigson’s behavior. You don’t hear any whispers of that under Ballard. If anything, you hear the opposite.
Regarding the Davis situation, he’s had a lingering groin issues for some time. It appears Davis got one opinion stating he should get rehab and another that recommended surgery. Colts doctors cleared him to play. It appears Davis was more upset with Chuck Pagano than Ballard given Davis explicitly said he was upset about Pagano not contacting him directly. There was no mention of Ballard. Maybe Davis was upset to hear he was on the trade block but he never made that public as far as I can tell. Davis maybe decided surgery would be best because it would give an excuse for his poor play, and that’s a completely valid excuse. Some people will claim Davis electing surgery points to some deeper issue with Ballard. There’s been no evidence to support that position.
Regardless, Ballard has clearly changed the culture of the Colts. Players have to earn their keep and if they don’t, they’ll be gone. Ballard is preaching competition and living it. That’s what you want in a GM trying to change the culture of an organization. Ballard has made great draft picks and brought in quality free agents while maintaining their cap space. While the current feeling is a bit bleak, the long term picture is bright for this franchise.
ESPN got it right this time. Jim Irsay bringing in a talent like Ballard to return the franchise to greatness was the most impactful move from this past off-season.