Since he was hired as the new general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, we’ve learned quite a bit about Chris Ballard. We’ve gained some further insight into who he is and what his philosophy is when building a team, and one thing in particular has stuck out multiple times: the importance of a strong locker room.
“I don’t know any championship team who didn’t have a great locker room and grow together,” Ballard mentioned last week at the NFL Combine. “It’s hard to just throw people into the locker room and expect a winner. It just doesn’t work that way.”
A lot of his emphasis on the locker room has been in association with free agency: you have to be careful who you bring in because they need to be fits within the locker room, and you can’t buy a locker room. Through it all, though, we’ve realized that Chris Ballard highly emphasises the locker room aspect of the team and thinks that is essential to building a winning team.
That emphasis will be especially important this year, because the Colts have lost a lot of their leaders.
This trend really goes back to the offseason of 2015, when the Colts let Reggie Wayne walk. Then this year, we’ve seen an exodus of leaders leaving the team. Robert Mathis, the team’s longtime pass rusher, retired. Pat McAfee, the All-Pro punter, decided to hang it up as well. D’Qwell Jackson, a starting inside linebacker, was released. Mike Adams, a starting safety, was informed he won’t be re-signed. And then today Joe Reitz, a longtime offensive lineman, announced his retirement.
In all of these things, you can’t fault anyone. Cutting Jackson was the right move, and it’s hard to argue with not re-signing Adams - and then the retirements are the player’s decisions, not the team’s. So it’s not Chris Ballard’s fault, but he suddenly has a team without several of their leaders. If you were to look back at the defense last year, it could be argued that Robert Mathis, Mike Adams, and D’Qwell Jackson were the top three leaders. Now, they’ll all be elsewhere in 2017. Pat McAfee and Joe Reitz were both very respected members of the locker room who will be retired. And if the Colts don’t re-sign Jack Doyle, add another really well-liked guy on the team who won’t be back.
Ultimately, this just further highlights the importance of Ballard’s emphasis on the locker room. This team needs leaders to step up and take the place of other leaders, and so it’s important to not be adding free agents who would be cancers in the locker room but rather free agents that would fit right in and be well-liked and respected - like Frank Gore, the example Ballard used when describing the right kind of free agent from a locker room standpoint.
The Colts have seen a number of their respected leaders and well-liked guys depart in recent months, and again, that’s not always neccessarily a bad thing. But it does give more credence to Ballard’s emphasis on the locker room when signing free agents, and so with the current makeup of this Colts team it will probably be even more important than it otherwise might be.