I have been very critical of Chris Ballard in the past, as I believe no one is beyond questioning. It is by questioning Ballard’s approach that I had plenty of very productive debates with a lot of you guys in the comment section. Those debates made me grow a lot as a writer, and made me realize that I was wrong in plenty of aspects about my analysis. Clearly, debating and questioning each other is a great way to improve our way of thinking. So when someone uses the most biased number possible to try and paint a picture that could not be further away from the truth, I just have to answer.
Ryan Grigson, 5 years as Colts GM:— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) March 10, 2022
49-31 regular season
Chris Ballard, 5 years as Colts GM:
41-40 regular season
The tweet is from journalist Michael Silver, who has written for SI, Yahoo Sports, and NFL Network throughout his career. He is someone that clearly knows more about football and the NFL than I do, but he clearly does not know more about the Colts recent history.
Sure, the numbers are true and I am not here to dispute that, but those numbers are clearly extremely misleading. First of all, if Grigson was so great with the Colts, why isn’t he the general manager of any of the other 31 teams in the NFL? Record is not everything for a general manager. Context HAS to be taken into account when making such statements, and Silver just flat out didn’t do that.
Grigson was appointed as the Colts’ general manager and inherited one of the worst rosters in the entire NFL, but he had something truly special: The #1 overall pick, and the possibility to draft Andrew Luck, the best quarterback prospect over the past 25 seasons. Grigson smartly chose Luck over RGIII, and then rounded out a really amazing first draft for him by getting players like T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Vick Ballard, and Dwayne Allen. As for free agency, the Colts were not that active that year, signing Cory Redding and Samson Satele. Redding was a great veteran addition and an incredible presence in the locker room, while Satele just never truly emerged as the starting center the Colts expected him to become. The Colts went 11-5, led by an amazing rookie campaign by Andrew Luck, and made the playoffs. Ryan Grigson was named executive of the year.
Unfortunately for the Colts, it all went downhill after that. Taking into account the draft pick Grigson traded for Trent Richardson (one of the worst trades in Colts’ history), Grigson had 10 picks total in the first 3 rounds from 2013 to 2016, and missed on 80% of them. While he did draft a couple solid players, like Jack Mewhort and Ryan Kelly, he also drafted players like D’Joun Smith, Phillip Dorsett, T.J. Green, Le’Raven Clark, Donte Moncrief, Bjoern Werner... players that just did not work out.
Not only did Grigson fail miserably at drafting quality players, but his free agent signings were also among the worst in the NFL.
2013: 4-year $35M to right tackle Gosder Cherilus, 4-year $24M to safety Laron Landry, 4-year $22M to Ricky Jean-Francois.
2014: 5-year, $33M to Arthur Jones. 2015: Andre Johnson 3-year $21M.
It wasn’t all bad for Grigson, as he did make several solid moves, like trading for Vontae Davis, signing Erik Walden, and signing Frank Gore.
Thing is, Grigson got away with how terrible he was at building a proper roster, because he had one of the most talented quarterbacks in recent history. Luck was a pure winner that carried a mediocre roster to the playoffs time and time again despite a lack of viable weapons, an incompetent head coach, and an offensive line that was among the worst I have seen in the history of the NFL. Luck carried Grigson to his record. That is the simple truth.
After several offseasons of making seemingly every mistake possible, Ryan Grigson was finally fired by owner Jim Irsay. He was replaced with Chris Ballard, one of the most coveted general manager candidates in the NFL. Ballard inherited a roster with a lot more talent than the one Grigson had received, but still with plenty of question marks.
His first offseason as the Colts’ general manager was clearly the worst, as he whiffed on his first four picks (Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson, Tarrell Basham, Zach Banner) before getting Marlon Mack and Grover Stewart. The free agency period did not go any better, as his first big signing was Johnathan Hankins, who lasted just one season in Indy.
Luck missed the following season, and the Colts went 4-12, good for the 3rd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. It was in that Draft that Ballard cemented himself as one of the best general managers in the entire NFL. He traded back with the Jets, gaining plenty of extra draft capital, while also getting Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard (who combined for 5 First Team All-Pro selections in their first 4 seasons), and getting valuable players like Braden Smith and Nyheim Hines. As if that was not enough, Ballard also signed Denico Autry and Eric Ebron in free agency, two players that contributed a lot in their time in Indianapolis and were not expensive at all.
After starting the year 1-5 with new head coach Frank Reich, the Colts turned it around and won 9 of their last 10 games. They made the playoffs with a 10-6 record, and beat the Texans in the Wild Card round before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional round.
Things were looking bright in Indy. Luck finally had a proper offensive line in front of him, and the defense was playing really well. Ballard went ahead and signed edge rusher Justin Houston in free agency, and he drafted Rock Ya-Sin, Ben Banogu, Parris Campbell, Bobby Okereke, and Khari Willis. Some of those players panned out, some did not (Banogu, Campbell), but the Colts were clearly looking like Super Bowl contenders.
Then, out of the blue, Andrew Luck retired in the preseason of 2019, throwing a wrench in the long term plans Ballard had for the team. The drop-off from Andrew to backup Jacoby Brissett was just too much, and the Colts went 7-9, missing the playoffs.
After it was clear that Jacoby was not the answer at quarterback, Ballard went out and reunited Frank Reich with an old friend: veteran Philip Rivers. He gave the Colts one really solid season, leading them to an 11-5 record, making the playoffs, and almost beating the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs away from home. Rivers then retired, Ballard listened to Reich and traded for Carson Wentz, and after a late season collapse we are right where we are now. Wentz was traded to the Washington Commanders (first time writing that name!).
Sure, just by looking at the win-loss record, it looks like Grigson was among the best general managers in the NFL, and it seems like Ballard is a mediocre one. But I hope that after taking a deeper look into the context of the two situations, one can realize that there is more than just wins and losses, and that there is a reason why Chris Ballard is among the most respected general managers in the NFL. Also, there's a good reason why Grigson never got another GM job in the league.