The 2017 NFL Draft is over, and with it wraps up most of the major moves that Chris Ballard will make in his first offseason with the Colts. So this provides a perfect opportunity to review some of the moves Ballard has made and think long-term about where the team is heading.
This morning each SB Nation NFL site is taking a look at their team’s future and what the next five years might look like, and of course that’s impossible to predict - but Chris Ballard has had a nice start toward rebuilding the Colts this offseason.
In free agency, he added a ton of players. Perhaps most importantly, however, Ballard seems to understand that free agency is not going to fix every hole - instead, Ballard used free agency to grab some younger guys with upside but who can also step in and at least be solid for the Colts, stopping the bleeding so to speak from their struggles a year ago. So he signed players like Jabaal Sheard and John Simon, both of whom could be starting. He signed inside linebackers Sean Spence and Jon Bostic, who will be competing for starting spots, and he signed Johnathan Hankins to anchor the interior of the defensive line. He signed guys like Brian Schwenke and Al Woods to compete in the trenches, and re-signed some key players in Jack Doyle, Darius Butler, and Robert Turbin. Overall, you can realistically say that this team got better in free agency, though it’s not the drastic improvement that some hoped. Why? Because free agency isn’t the primary way that Ballard hopes to build this team.
Instead, he wants to build through the draft, and he looks to have had a nice first draft class. Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson look to be immediate starters in the secondary and look to provide upgrades, while Tarell Basham and Marlon Mack figure to see some key playing time and Anthony Walker, Zach Banner, Grover Stewart, and Nate Hairston could provide nice competition with upside and potential. So through the draft the Colts appear to have added a couple of playmakers and some guys who can keep improving.
That’s the model that they’ll need to keep following. The reality is that this team won’t be fixed overnight, and Ballard knows it. These rookies will have struggles, and these free agents won’t be perfect. Furthermore, Ballard is content with taking a longer view of fixing this roster - of course he wants to win right now, but he also realizes that he can’t fix everything overnight, at least not adequately. But what Chris Ballard is doing is creating an atmosphere that emphasises competition and that gets the best talent possible on the field. Free agency will address some of the holes but the major playmakers will likely come through the draft. That means that drafting will be even more important, but if the Colts can keep adding defensive talent and defensive difference-makers, within a few years the Colts should have a good roster that’s capable of being a Super Bowl contender - especially with the most difficult piece already in place, as they have Andrew Luck at quarterback.
It of course takes a lot of projection to think the Colts will become that contender within a few years, but it’s actually realistic to think. They’ve been making solid moves so far, but they’re still not there yet. Within a few years, however, hopefully they can be. That’s always been the hope in Indianapolis, but there’s a much stronger sense of hope this offseason with Chris Ballard now leading the charge.