When the Indianapolis Colts were searching for a new GM after Ryan Grigson was shown the door, Chris Ballard was atop the list of many fans and analysts alike. His name had come up for several openings in recent years, and had been highly coveted by those with openings in their front office as Jim Irsay was closing the deal to bring him to Indianapolis.
After his hire, Ballard had one month to prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine and to get things running for the 2017 NFL Draft. Initially in his first presser he was eager to get started. He was impressive right from the jump.
At his presser in his first Combine as a GM, national reporters and analysts came away with a sense that the Colts organization was in good hands and that the hype surrounding Ballard in his road to becoming a GM was warranted.
Since then a large amount of Colts fans have put their trust in Ballard. Virtually nobody offered that kind of faith in Grigson as years passed, and one would think it to be awfully difficult for that same level of confidence to be lent the new occupant of that seat right away.
However, back-to-back .500 seasons played a part in the fan base dropping their collective guard, vying for optimism of the future, I suspect. Ballard’s first draft has yet to have the requisite time to truly be analyzed, but most largely appreciate the talent collected and are hopeful for their talents to be realized after a disappointing 2017 season.
Ballard made some moves in free agency prior to last season, bringing in Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Jon Bostic, Johnathan Hankins and a few others who made solid contributions, offering a nice influx of talent to a depleted roster. But, in the end too many other things were going to go wrong for them to make a real impact.
Andrew Luck never touched the field, which really hurt any chance of a solid season filled with change, but it was a rough start for the rookies overall as well.
Malik Hooker missed a large part of the season due to injury, Tarell Basham failed to flourish in a scheme he’d never played in, Quincy Wilson was either injured or being held back most of the season, and Anthony Walker missed a handful of games as well. Marlon Mack, Grover Stewart and Nate Hairston all contributed in at least 14 games a piece, but their impacts weren’t massive as a result of a season in a downward spiral with Chuck Pagano in a lame duck role.
A lot of bad luck plagued the season, but of those draft picks, Zach Banner was the only real miss at the moment.
But, it was what Ballard — albeit very quietly — continued to do while the team was struggling through that 2017 campaign in his first season at the helm. He was bringing in no-name players who he’d previously scouted, and had familiarity with, as he patiently waited for more talent to become available.
We’ve been through some of them previously, but D.J. White, Ross Travis, Jeremiah George, and a few others who have since been turned over, were all brought in to maintain some depth and build on that depth as he went in order to minimize any need for mass signings at any given time. The roster wasn’t vastly improving with those under-the-radar signings, yet, those three are now quality depth for a roster in the throes of a major makeover.
Ballard then hit a wall nobody could have predicted in the process of finding Pagano’s successor as Josh McDaniels reneged on his agreement to become the Colts next head coach — after some of his coaching staff had been already been signed and sealed, no less. Yes, Ballard was furious. But, he took his very short time to fume, then re-calibrated, maintained his composure and moved on.
The majority of the loud mouths were telling everyone who would listen that the Colts’ new GM was made a fool, that he was an embarrassment for failing to close the deal with McDaniels and anything else they could spew from their facehole. Meanwhile, Ballard was already over it and back into the process of finding another head coach to come in and make this team better.
We never saw the grimace on his face of stress, he never skipped a beat and then went on to ink Frank Reich and bring his offensive mind into the mix, and now those same people who bashed Ballard are saying that the organization dodged a bullet — along with everyone else who has said that since the whole thing went down.
Let’s be honest here too, owner Jim Irsay was more than likely freaking out a bit when that all hit the fan. He is an impulsive man, he likes the shiny thing which is likely why he had such an affinity for Grigson until the end. Grigson played towards Irsay’s love of the big free-agent signing, the lack of patience for a process to play out, instant gratification and everything that comes with it.
But, as we know now, this approach — along with largely being viewed as a terrible person — would prove to be Grigson’s undoing.
Ballard shows no resemblance to any of that. And it has the potential to occasionally make fans uneasy: the waiting for a huge signing in free agency — which we all fall victim to to some degree. There’s no impulse to anything he does.
Ballard has since put together another nice pull from the 2018 Draft, shoring up the offensive line — theoretically — adding some athletic linemen and tapping into the need for a defensive line that can get pressure from multiple angles.
But, again, Ballard hasn’t stopped there.
He’s continued to build this roster, bringing in more pass rushers who may be able to make the roster and contribute such as Chris McCain. More linemen are being signed who can bring the median level of talent up for the group, such as right tackle Austin Howard.
Ballard claimed Rakeem Nunez-Roches the other day who will work inside in the Colts new scheme despite the defensive line being a packed house — Ballard’s process just never stops. His ability to remain grounded, continuing the process that he believes in and never wavering when something happens elsewhere, or panicking into a move that doesn’t fit his vision.
Something that cannot be ignored when considering the signings of these players, is that Ballard has exercised great patience in waiting until after the deadline for them to affect the compensatory pick formula for next season which ended at 4 pm on May 8th.
You see, whether or not Irsay is nervous behind the scenes because he’s awaiting a big move to make him want to grab the mic, Ballard’s even keeled process is leveling off the owner’s ability to have unrealistic expectations. There were initial expectations for Ballard to become this era’s Bill Polian for the Colts, and right now, that’s as important for Irsay as it is for the players on the roster and the future players who will come to Indianapolis because of it.
Ballard will occasionally fail within his own model. He said as much at his introductory press conference, but that he’ll also “own it” and not push it off on to someone else to take the blame. Every GM fails at one time or another. Nobody’s even batting .750 in this league. But, Ballard will also continue to build the roster the way he knows how, and in the process, will get the Colts owner back into the state of mind to trust his GM rather than trusting that he’ll do everything he can to get him excited from time to time.
Slow and steady, adding pieces to raise the talent of the bottom line of the roster while finding the organization’s next line of difference makers through the draft is precisely what Colts fans, and especially Jim Irsay truly need. Not a GM who has a penchant for swinging for the fences with a wiffle ball bat and failing to learn from past mistakes.