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How balancing homegrown talent and carryover cap may be key for Chris Ballard

Adding late free agent additions may be worthwhile but building from within and carryover cap comes into play for Colts.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts are in a strong position financially, with over $52 million in cap space according to Spotrac. With some big name free agents still on the market, Chris Ballard has flexibility. He recently brought in defensive backs Bashaud Breeland, Tre Boston, and Kenny Vaccaro to get a feel for how signing one of those players would impact his team this season and into the future. All of these players left Indianapolis without a contract and still remain in free agency.

While Indianapolis is relatively strong at the safety position there are questions about the short-term health of Malik Hooker and the longevity of aggressive box safety Clayton Geathers. In the NFL, you cannot have too much talent at any given position and all three of the defensive backs who visited would either provide legitimate competition for a starting spot or would provide incredible depth at positions where injuries seem inevitable. So, why would Ballard hesitate to pull the trigger?

There are two primary factors that will likely impact his decision to sign one of these players.

First, Ballard has made it very clear that he intends to build the Indianapolis Colts through the draft and that he does not see a way to have long-term success that doesn’t rely heavily on homegrown players. Adding big name free agents who push for starting spots will not only move away from that philosophy, it will take away opportunities for young players drafted by Ballard to get repetitions and improve on the football field.

Second, Ballard has to consider that in the modern NFL, money saved today can be carried over to to future seasons. While he may not be ready to flood the roster with starting caliber players from outside of the organization this year, he could carry over his bank account to next year and end up with even more purchasing power, with a clearer picture of his team’s weaknesses and a free agent class that may be more compelling.

On the other end of free agency considerations is that a resurgence for the Colts and the return of Andrew Luck could make Indianapolis more compelling in negotiations.

One thing that is no longer in the cards for Ballard is gaining an advantage in the draft through compensatory picks. Even if he signs one of the aforementioned players and they go on to drive up their contract value on the open market, the Colts will receive nothing if they sign with another team. Of course, free agent signings will also not hurt the Colts current projected compensatory picks — currently projected to be a fourth round pick to offset the loss of Donte Moncrief. With compensatory and draft pick considerations no longer on the table, Ballard is left to make player decisions solely on his projections for talent and health at positions over the short- and long-term. It also leaves him to balance to the two factors above.

What is more valuable, 2019 purchasing power and playing time for homegrown youngsters or what adding a player in free agency this year will mean for the team moving forward?

What we have seen in Ballard previous free agent contracts is that he tends to prefer to sign outside players to one year prove it deals or for shorter-term contract with no guaranteed money after the first season. As ideal as that may be for Ballard, these players (and their agents) may not be immediately interested in that kind of arrangement and may prefer to hold out for longer term deals that might promise more stability. Ballard also has to keep in mind that the value of these players grows with playing time and so, once again, the first consideration comes into play (developing homegrown talent) versus the potential for trade value at a loaded position.

What is more important for the long-term health of the franchise? Allow Tre Boston to get a ton of playing time early to establish trade value prior to the deadline or make getting Malik Hooker back onto the field your top priority so he can continue to build for the future? It seems obvious that Hooker’s development is priority number one so it makes the Boston situation complicated.

Of all the players who recently visited, Bashaud Breeland makes the most sense. His value on the open market has been suppressed due to a failed physical and recovery from a foot injury. He is still a young player who will undoubtedly have a chip on his shoulder after a rocky off-season. He fits well into what the Colts want to do in the secondary and could be a very strong veteran presence across from second-year cornerback Quincy Wilson.

It would seem, at least at this point, Indianapolis could very easily be the front runner for Breeland if Ballard is interested. Teams may be waiting for definitive proof that the foot injury is not an issue before making a move.