Over the course of the past two seasons with Chris Ballard at the helm, the fan base has had to take notice of an approach that may take a couple years to get the team back in the mix for contention. He’s told us multiple times that he wants to put the majority of the team-building process into the draft, but hasn’t dismissed using free agency if the player can be “absorbed” into the roster.
As with any team, I suspect, a few question marks from Ballard’s first two drafts have risen to the surface in particular. Tarell Basham was supposed to be much more comfortable in the 4-man front of the Tampa-2 style scheme of this year’s defense, but hasn’t given much of an indication that he’s really all that impactful up to this point.
Last year, Zach Banner — a fourth-round selection — was waived and Ballard never looked back despite him being available a handful of times after subsequently being waived by a couple other teams. We’re seeing some issues with Nyheim Hines already, though it’s admittedly far too early to make any real decisions on his long-term viability, the questions are still there.
In short, what we’re seeing is that regardless of their status, where they were drafted, Ballard isn’t scared to admit a ‘mistake’ and move on from a player if he doesn’t make the team better. This isn’t something we noticed from the previous regime and whether or not you might think it’s rash to cut a player before you get a full season of play to form a more conclusive opinion of them, cutting bait when it isn’t going to work is a great quality from a GM who was responsible for drafting that talent.
Frank Reich seems to feel the same in this approach, and basically said as much yesterday during his media availability.
“Everything factors into that. Yeah, at some level it would be unrealistic to say that draft choices don’t get a little consideration. I mean, that’s just the way it is in this league. I will say this, that in talking with Chris (Ballard) here, we weigh production of the field for rookies probably more than most teams and draft status isn’t an automatic shoe-in in this organization. Chris has made that clear to me from day one and I appreciate that mentality. So, we feel good about our draft picks but that is our mentality. You’ve got to earn it.”
Personally, I love this. This is a clear warning to the young guys and free agents on the roster that if you come in and feel you’re going to be given a spot simply because we drafted you, that you’re sadly mistaken. But, it’s also a message being sent loud and clear to those who have just been signed that if you work for it, and deserve it, you’re going to make this team.
Chris Ballard has told us that “the locker room is watching” and that they know which of the guys in that locker room are working hard and which are not. They know who is making a difference, and who is simply dead weight. Ballard will not allow this locker room to become a resentful place to be.
No team politics. If you earn it, you’ll get it. I can’t imagine a better message to send to all 90 players currently rostered when creating the right culture and a successful team is priority one.