The Indianapolis Colts are currently preparing for free agency, which will start in just a couple of weeks with the new league year.
Part of the free agent decision-making will be about which of their own guys to re-sign, while another part of it will be about which free agents from other teams to go after. The Colts won’t have a shortage of cap room, as they’re expected to have somewhere around $54 million to work with (and could clear up a bit more by cutting Art Jones).
This year, the Colts will have a new guy running the show in free agency, as general manager Chris Ballard was hired to rebuild the team. He’s spent a number of years in the NFL with the Bears and the Chiefs, but he’s never been a GM before. So there’s certainly a level of unknown as he approaches free agency, but we took a look back at the public interviews he’s done so far since he was hired and tried to sum up what to expect from him entering his first free agency period with the Colts.
1. Free agency won’t be primary
During his introductory press conference, Ballard made it quite clear that he wants to build up a young team through the draft. “You want to raise your own," he said. "You want to raise your own. We want to be a great drafting team. We want to have a sound structure and foundation in place where we're producing players every year for the Colts. You have to. You have to produce three or four guys that are going to help you every single year.” It must be understood that for Chris Ballard and the Colts, free agency seems like the secondary priority behind the draft - and for good reason. The Colts want to draft and develop young talent, not just turn to a crapshoot free agency period hoping to provide a temporary solution to needs.
2. Free agency won’t be ignored
At the same time, however, don’t expect Ballard and the Colts to just ignore free agency. With so many needs and so much money to work with, the Colts will surely make some moves. Right after mentioning what he did about growing their own talent, Ballard added, “Now saying that, between street free agents, between waiver claims, we'll get into free agency a little bit.” It won’t be his primary means of building the team (at least ideally), but we should still expect the Colts to make some moves in free agency this year.
3. Free agency will be strategic
When the Colts do make those moves, however, they’ll be particularly strategic. Though Ballard hasn’t directly mentioned this, it can be inferred from what he’s said. As we already mentioned, he’s expressed the need to build through the draft, and he’s also specified a few needs in particular: he’s acknowledged the Colts need defensive help, and he’s emphasized the trenches as something he’ll always keep his eye on - plus he’s stated that he’s looking for big, fast playmakers. Those guys don’t just come around every day, particularly in free agency. Another added dynamic of this is Ballard’s refrain of “you can't buy a locker room, and you have to be very careful when you enter into free agency.” For Ballard, locker room culture is a big thing, and he realizes that just throwing money at certain guys doesn’t create that strong culture. The Colts will make some moves in free agency, but expect them to be very strategic. Sure, that’s always the case with every team, but it’s something that could be particularly true of the Colts this year.
4. Free agency will be a team approach
Though Ballard will have the final say on the roster, don’t expect him to wield that power in free agency by demanding they sign certain guys. Instead, expect Ballard to consult with others: head coach Chuck Pagano, the assistant coaches, the pro scouting department, etc. "Everything we do will be together,” Ballard said in his introductory press conference. “Everything we do will be together. It'll be a different process for our guys a little bit, but everything and every decision we make, we will do together.” In a radio interview with 1070 the Fan’s JMV, Ballard also mentioned that he’s meeting with the Colts staff, and he added that his relationship with Chuck Pagano is off to a good start. “It’s good,” he said. “Chuck’s been very open. Staff, I’ve had meetings with Chuck sitting in with both our offensive and defensive staffs and it’s been really good. Coach’s staff [is] very open, very honest. They know how I am: just give it to me, don’t sugar-coat anything. They’ve been a good group to work with.” In decisions - such as free agency - expect Ballard to approach it with a team approach looking to do what’s best for the Colts. And in order to do that, he’ll need to make sure that the coaching staff and scouting department are both on the same page too.