According to The Athletic’s Ben Standig (subscription), based on a survey of thirty-three certified NFL agents, Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard was recently voted both the league’s ‘best GM’ and ‘talent evaluator’ respectively:
7. Among GMs or front-office leaders, who is the best talent evaluator?
Colts GM Chris Ballard (10.5 votes)
• “He does things with such excellence. Gathers wisdom from people he trusts. He listens. Has such a wise approach.”
• “His pedigree as a former college assistant. He’s evaluated players throughout his career, so he gets it.”
(Note: Ballard also received the most votes in this category the past two years.)
10. Who is the best GM and why?
Colts GM Chris Ballard (10 votes)
• “Straight shooter and honest. He’s extremely seasoned and learned from some of the best ever. He’s excellent on the football side and a great human being in terms of dealing with people. Also fantastic with the cap and contracts. So well-rounded.”
• “His relationships with his staff, coach and players show the respect for him and how he handles himself.”
For what it’s worth, Ballard also tied for 2nd among NFL general managers, whom agents trust the most—earning three total votes in that regard:
8. Among GMs or front-office leaders, whom do you trust the most?
Broncos GM George Paton (3.5 votes)
• “He doesn’t overly complicate things or ride a high horse.”
• “(Paton) has high football intelligence and is a dynamic personality. Trustworthy and a fair negotiator. I think he’s going to have a lot of success in Denver.”
Colts GM Chris Ballard, Browns GM Andrew Berry (three votes)
• “Chris Ballard and no one else.”
• “Andrew Berry is young and still learning the ropes, but he keeps it straight-up with agents. He’s involved and doesn’t just punt contracts to the cap guy like some teams.”
(Note: Ballard received the most votes in this category last year.)
Since joining the Colts in 2017, Ballard has built a young and talented, well-rounded roster while maintaining great salary cap flexibility going forward. His masterpiece was the prized 2018 NFL Draft class, where he landed two 3x NFL All-Pros: Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard; an ascending star right tackle Braden Smith, and dynamic scatback Nyheim Hines.
As a result, he was named the PFWA Executive of the Year Award Winner in 2018.
(He also landed a coup with his 2020 offseason trade for NFL 1st-Team All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner—which instantly has proven to be a stroke of genius.)
While Ballard’s overall record isn’t great, 32-32 (.500), he had to deal with former franchise quarterback Andrew Luck’s uncertain health status (missing a whole season)—and ensuing abrupt retirement (unexpectedly missing another season [*and shockingly never to return]).
When he’s actually had a competent starting caliber quarterback behind center, Ballard’s Colts teams have made the playoffs both times (i.e., Luck in 2018 and Philip Rivers in 2020).
Ballard wants to build a team that is strong in all three phases of the game, while dominating and controlling the trenches on both sides of the football.
He wants to draft, develop, and build a homegrown roster of long-term, sustainable talent, while rarely dipping into free agency (and in turn, refusing to ever overpay). He wants a locker room full of humble leaders, selfless teammates, and tough, hard-nosed players.
It’s about creating a winning culture from the ground up.
The 52 year old’s highly regarded and remains one of the league’s best general managers and talent evaluators entering the 2021 NFL campaign.
However, it’s also his kindness, professionalism, and candor that were reasons as to why Ballard was a well-deserving recipient of the recent PFWA 2020 Jack Horrigan Award, which is given annually to the league or team official whose transparency best helps the pro football writers to consistently perform their jobs.
It’s not surprising that Ballard was also lauded for his trust and forthrightness here from a number of certified NFL agents in this latest league survey.
Currently, while Ballard assuredly would like to see his Colts teams start making some deep AFC playoff pushes soon (and ultimately hoist at least a Lombardi Trophy or two before it’s all said and done), the franchise appears to be in really good hands right now.
He’s a refreshing reminder that NFL general managers can still be really good at their jobs, while also simultaneously being really good humans.
It’s also worth noting that Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds, who interviewed with the Detroit Lions last offseason for their then-vacant general manager opening, was named as one of the ‘future GMs to watch’ among the thirty-three surveyed certified NFL agents:
• “(Dodds is a) great talent evaluator, which is the old-school GM trait, but also really good with people and has learned how this works under Chris Ballard. No BS. He’ll tell you he doesn’t like a player and why.”
This very well could be Dodds’ ‘last hurrah’ in Indianapolis, as he’s a hot candidate to eventually take a lead NFL general manager job elsewhere—and presumably pretty soon.
Every season he remains in Indianapolis is another blessing—as Ballard’s ‘right hand man’ and a shrewd talent evaluator in his own right.