One of the areas on the Colts’ roster that Chris Ballard will have to unexpectedly address is punter, as Pat McAfee surprisingly announced his retirement from the NFL earlier this offseason.
While the natural response for a GM would obviously be to try to talk McAfee out of his retirement since he’s the best in the league at his position, that wasn’t what Ballard told the ex-Colts punter. Instead, he congratulated him and expressed how happy he was for McAfee.
Appearing on the radio on 1070 the Fan today with Dan Dakich, Ballard was asked about McAfee’s retirement and whether he’s asked the punter to reconsider.
“Alright, so I’ve got a great thought – at least a thought on that,” Ballard said. “So I did reach out to Pat, just to tell him, so my message was not, ‘I want you back.’ My message was, ‘I was happy for you.’ So the hardest thing for players when they’re done, when the cheers stop, when you don’t have the camaraderie of the locker room, finding your life’s work is very difficult for players to do, for ex-players to do. And I’m big into, they get on me all the time about it but I’m always, ‘hey look, you’ve got to find something that you’re passionate about doing in life, that when you’re done playing you can move forward in life with.’ And I was happy for Pat. Pat has found something he’s passionate about, and he’s attacking it the same way he attacked football, so I’m happy for Pat McAfee. I mean, I think it’s great. I think it’s outstanding.”
Of course, losing McAfee does mean that the Colts will need to replace their punter, kickoff specialist, and holder, and Ballard realizes that - but it’s not the most important thing.
“That’s part of it,” he said. “Good for Pat McAfee. And look, you want guys to move on - the NFL is not a career. It’s a short-term part of your life. You figure you’re done at 30, you’ve got another 50 years left of life that you’ve got to go live, and I don’t care how much money you have in the bank, you’ve got to have something that you’re passionate about to get you off the couch every day that allows you to do something. Hey, I guarantee you [Dan Dakich], when you were younger, you went through it, in coaching and now into radio, and we all did, even at the lowest level, even when you finish high school, college, it doesn’t matter – you’ve got to have something that you’re passionate about.”
Later in the day, during his press conference at the NFL Combine, Ballard acknowledged that McAfee is “a difficult guy to replace,” but added that “we’re working on it” and that the Colts are working hard to find McAfee’s replacement.
In light of Ballard’s comments about McAfee, the former punter tweeted that Ballard left him a voicemail the day he retired.
He called & left me an incredible voicemail the day I retired.. The whole football world speaks highly of Chris Ballard, was easy 2 see why https://t.co/viBHvEvT3K— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) March 1, 2017
Why does all of this matter, and what makes it any different than just another Pat McAfee post? I think it sheds some light on the Colts’ new GM and why so many people around the league speak so highly of him, including players. When the GM is about McAfee’s retirement, the expected answer would be something about how he’ll be missed and he’s a great player, but they’re looking to find his replacement. Instead, however, Ballard spoke at length about how happy he is to see guys transition out of their NFL careers and into things that they’re passionate about, realizing that there’s life after football that needs to be accounted for. If that’s the same way he is behind-the-scenes with players too, it’s a helpful insight into why he’s well-respected.
As another related note, Dakich asked Ballard whether he’ll meet with each player individually before the team starts training camp, and he said, “eventually, yeah.” He said that he has an open-door policy, and it seems - at least externally - that he really prioritizes his relationships with people within the building, including players. His comments on McAfee’s retirement are just one indication of how that can play out.