While much of the conversation was simply friendly banter—with a few discussed life lessons along the way with Dakich, Ballard did offer a few interesting nuggets of potential football intel for this early offseason:
1. Colts Have No Problem Making ‘Big Q’ the Highest Paid Offensive Guard in Football—Within Reason
Even though he was limited by injuries somewhat in 2021, Ballard has no qualms right now about making Quenton Nelson, who still played at a Pro Bowl caliber level, the most handsomely paid player at his NFL position (and in league history for that matter).
It’s not all about his blocking dominance and highlight reel pancakes on the field either—as Nelson’s presence translates well into the locker room:
“Yes,” Ballard cooly answered when asked if 2023 Colts’ projected top free agent, 3x NFL All-Pro offensive guard Quenton Nelson was worth a very loosely provided estimate of $17-20 million per year on his next NFL contract. “Really?” Dakich asked, “A left guard?”, and Ballard nonchalantly answered, “Yeah, yep, yep,” each time.
“What he brings on a daily basis, there’s . . and you know this from basketball, some players add value just by their influence,” Ballard explained. “. . . . Who they are, what they are. What they are in the locker room. What they stand for. Some players, and Q means that, he means that.”
“. . . I mean that might be a little high, but he’s going to be well paid,” clarified Ballard later regarding Dakich’s initial loosely provided contract estimate.
2. Danny Pinter Could Be an Option at Starting Right Guard Next Season
With both veteran guards Mark Glowinski and Chris Reed as imminent 2022 free agents, the Colts could turn to third-year pro Danny Pinter—who impressed in spot-starts during 2021 (although entirely at center), to potentially be the starting right guard of the future:
“It’s like Danny Pinter,” Ballard said, when discussing his offensive line’s backups’ solid performances in a limited sample size this past year. “I think Danny Pinter is a really good player, and I think he’s going to be a good player. Whether it’s at guard, we think he has a chance to step in and do some things at guard for us.”
3. Colts Coveting a ‘Middle of the Field’ Weapon
Much ado has been made about the Colts adding another piece at wide receiver to pair on the other side of Michael Pittman Jr., but let’s not forget either that the team could also withstand to get more explosive/dynamic at tight end too going forward:
“And adding an athletic weapon that threatens the middle of the field, really threatens the middle of the field, yeah, yeah, that’s something that every team is looking for, and so are we,” responded Ballard on what in particular he could look for to upgrade the team’s offensive arsenal in 2022.
4. More Explosive Passing Plays Needed
This goes hand-in-hand with 3.) above, but the Colts also need more explosive big plays in the passing game, as they can’t purely rely on Jonathan Taylor and the power running game to drive down the field—and oftentimes late in 2021 (when things truly went south), just grind out yards rather one-dimensionally:
“And, the explosive plays in the passing game,” answered Ballard on where else to improve. “And we ended up, it wasn’t as bad as everybody makes it out to be. I think we finished in the top half of the league, but we need to be able to finish in the top ten with explosives.”
“Because that’s the game. That’s the game. It’s hard to continually have to just grind it out. 8, 9, 10 plays, a drive. I mean something usually goes wrong. You get a penalty. All of the sudden the odds are against you, you turn the ball over, you have have an incompletion, now you’re 3rd and freaking 12, and now third down is hard to pick up. So, I know those are areas that we have work to do.”
5. Admittedly a Strong Free Agent Market for Wideouts
The Colts will spend in free agency, if the available talent actually matches their valued price—in what’s expected to be a strong free agent wide receiver class, which remains a key need (as previously mentioned):
“I think it depends on where the talent is available and what the market is for the talent,” said Ballard on his overall free agency approach this offseason.
“It’s pretty good, yeah, it’s pretty good,” Ballard answered regarding this year’s free agent wide receiver class specifically. “Now, it comes (down) to, can you come to an agreement? It’s not just you wanting the player. The player has got to want you too. It’s no different than recruiting. It’s got to go both ways.”