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Should Chris Ballard Change his Approach to Team Building?

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Colts organization has come under a lot of scrutiny since their Week 18 collapse against the Jaguars. Everyone from top to bottom in the organization have been questioned. Should Chris Ballard be changing his approach or do anything differently?

If we take a look at how this year’s Super Bowl finalists and the last two winners have fared, they have succeeded by making a few key acquisitions through trade or free agency.

Rams 2021 - Matthew Stafford acquisition, Von Miller acquisition plus 3.71M in new FA acquisitions. Stafford deal cost them 7.75M extra in cap space and Miller an extra $722,000 so they essentially spent $12,182,000 and a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick in 2022 (as well as a 1st in 2023) on acquisitions.

Bengals 2021 - Hendrickson (15M), Hilton (6M), Awuzie (7.25M), Reiff (7.5M), Ogunjobi (6.2M), BJ Hill acquisition (100k net difference) Remaining New FA (4.3M) - Total $46,350,000

Bucs 2020 - Brady (25M), Gronk (3M plus late draft pick) Haeg (2.3M), Fournette (3.5M), Remaining New FA (2.25M) - Total $36,050,000

Chiefs 2019 - Mathieu (14M), F. Clark (6.5M cap hit plus 1st and 2nd round picks plus a 3rd round swap) Okafor (5.966M), Wilson (2.875M), McCoy (3M), Hyde (2.8M), Claiborne (2M), Breeland (2M), Remaining New FA’s (1.7M) - Total $40,841,000 plus a 1st and 2nd round draft pick

The Rams are known for unloading draft picks to trade for current stars. They’ve done it with Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, Matthew Stafford as well as many others over the years. Since McVay has been a head coach, they have made 21 trades and haven’t had a first round pick since 2016. McVay’s career record is 55-26 with a 6-3 playoff record and two Super Bowl appearances (with a chance at a win this weekend). It shows you don’t need to build completely through the draft to win.

Colts Spending on New Players

2021 - $40,560,882 plus a 1st round pick and 3rd round draft pick

2020 - $55,567,500 plus a 1st round pick

2019 - $23,215,000

Ballard has proven to be one of, if not the best, draft scouts in the NFL, drafting players like Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Jonathan Taylor, Braden Smith, Michael Pittman Jr amongst many other good young players in only 5 seasons. So drafting is the least of the Colts’ issues.

The issue with the Colts isn’t that they haven’t been spending, in fact they’ve been spending as much or more than the recent Super Bowl champion and finalists. Have they been getting good performances from their big acquisitions?

Who were the five highest paid new acquired players from the last 3 offseasons:

2021

Carson Wentz (21.35M 2021 cap hit)

Eric Fisher (8.1M AAV)

Sam Tevi (2.5M AAV)

Isaac Rochell (2.5M AAV)

Chris Reed (1.127M AAV)

2020

Philip Rivers (25M AAV)

DeForest Buckner (21M AAV)

Xavier Rhodes (3M AAV)

Sheldon Day (1.75M AAV)

Tavon Wilson (1.05M AAV)

2019 (Only 2)

Justin Houston (12M AAV)

Devin Funchess (10M AAV)

Since the majority of the money went into the top 2 players, it’s better to evaluate those 6 guys. Those players were:

  • Carson Wentz
  • Eric Fisher
  • Philip Rivers
  • DeForest Buckner
  • Justin Houston
  • Devin Funchess

These signing could be classified into 5 categories: Great, Good, Not Sure Yet, Bad and Horrible.

Funchess is easily classified as “Horrible” since he only played 1 game and had no impact on the team. Fisher is “Bad” because although he played a lot, he was a huge liability in the pass game. Rivers and Houston go under “Good” because they had a good impact when they played but they weren’t around for a long time. DeForest Buckner is clearly in the “Great” category since he’s made an All Pro in the last 2 years and has been an impact player.

Wentz is currently in the “Not Sure Yet” category and this trade could be the lasting legacy of the Ballard era. So if we eliminate Wentz from the conversation for now, then this is how Ballard’s spending on new acquisitions breaks down over the last few years:

  • Great (27.60%)
  • Good (48.62%)
  • Bad (10.64%)
  • Horrible (13.14%)

What do those numbers mean? It means that according to this small sample, 76.22% of the time Ballard spends on new players, he gets a good or great impact from that player. The other 23.78% he gets a poor or very poor impact.

Ballard isn’t a poor spender. In fact, with anywhere from 36 to 45M (depending on potential retirements and final rollover numbers), Ballard should be looking to spend at least 20M in cap space on new acquisitions this offseason because according to the sample, even if he spends only 20M, he’s expected to get good performances from 15M dollars worth of that spending. The worst thing he can do is not spend the money, especially with so many holes on offense (left tackle, wide receiver, potentially tight end) and defense (edge rusher, secondary).

The Colts also have a 2nd and 3rd round pick and are back to having all their draft picks in 2023. Ballard’s history of drafting in the 2nd round is unmatched, so hopefully the Colts can find an impact starter in that round. The 3rd round picks for him over the years has been hit or miss.


In the end, Ballard doesn’t need to change his approach to team building. In fact, with little realistic quarterback options on the market, he should look to strengthen the team around Wentz for the 2022 season by adding new, talented free agents.

Teams that win it all have a good combination of free agents and draft picks, even the Rams, whose two best players in 2021 were Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp, were draft picks. It’s becoming apparent that you need to be wiling to spend money to win championships and Ballard isn’t afraid to spend.