Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard spoke with reporters in Wednesday’s news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center after the first team-practice with a trimmed down 53-man roster.
For the last six years and seven months, Ballard has commanded all football operations in Indianapolis. The Colts have three winning seasons during that span – 10-6 in 2018, 11-5 in 2020, and 9-8 in 2021 – but with three separate quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, Phillip Rivers and Carson Wentz. Ballard is entering his 23rd season in the NFL, where he was tasked to reconstruct a team off its worst campaign in recent memory.
His first move of the off-season was hiring first-year head coach Shane Steichen, who orchestrated the most proficient ground game in the NFL as the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Following the departure of Yannick Ngakoue to Chicago, Ballard addressed the depth at pass rush, signing defensive end Samson Ebukam to a 3-year, $24 million deal and defensive tackle Taven Bryan to a 1-year, $3.5 million deal. Ballard made 12 selections in April’s NFL draft, which marked the most for the Colts since the NFL implemented the seven-round draft format in 1994.
The caveat to assembling the 53-man roster is assuaging sit downs to explain to players that he was No. 54 on the depth chart and will be waived or released. Is there a more daunting conundrum for a front office executive than to cut close to 40 professional athletes who bust their tail over the course of training camp?
“This week, it’s always hard,” Ballard said. “It’s never easy. Any time – and we talk about this every year – you cut the team down to 53 and eventually to your practice squad, you are getting rid of some guys that you have developed relationships with, who have been a part of your team and it’s never easy. I don’t care what anybody says, you never get to a point where you are just callous and don’t think about the other individual. These are human beings, this is their dream, this is what they want to do in their lives, and you’re telling them right now, ‘Hey, you’re not making it.’ It’s tough.
“I’m pleased where we are at. We have got work to do unequivocally. We are not by any means a finished product right now, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re young in certain spots, which I think you all know. It will be fun to watch these guys grow and play together and grow as a team.”
As Ballard delivered his opening statement, he addressed the elephant inside the Colts headquarters. Jonathan Taylor. The 24-year-old running back whom the Colts opted to not trade by its self-imposed deadline Tuesday, and subsequently kept on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Ballard admitted the Colts gave Taylor permission to seek a trade, but took a firm stance against letting him “walk out the door” for less valuable offers made by the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers.
“Jonathan (Taylor) is a well-respected and really good human being and a damn good football player,” Ballard stated. “I think we all know this. Things like this happen. I tell every rookie that comes in here, ‘There is going to be a point when we disagree, and it’s usually about money and it’s going to be hard, and just know that doesn’t change my care level for you.’ I care deeply for Jonathan Taylor. I have great respect for Jonathan Taylor.”
Taylor is kvetching with pain in his right ankle after undergoing arthroscopic debridement in January. In regards to the effect Taylor’s playing status may have on the locker room, Ballard called the saga a “shame” that dominated headlines over the past month and “overshadowed” the stories behind the growth and development of the skill position players. When asked about the relationship with the Colts 2021 All-Pro running back, Ballard mentioned “the situation sucks” for the Colts, Taylor and the fanbase.
“Our relationship I would tell you is, look - even when it gets hard – I won’t quit on the relationship,” Ballard said. “I won’t do it. I think too much of the young man. I think too much of what he’s given our organization and how hard he’s played for us.”
The trust between Indianapolis and its 2020 second-round draft pick has reached an impasse, with Taylor’s agent Malki Kawa speaking on behalf of the disgruntled tailback through cyberspace. Indianapolis’ GM repeated “relationships are repairable”, asking the media assembly if they have ever drawn the line in spite of a dispute with a soul mate.
“Guys get emotional and take a stance,” Ballard said. “You have got to be able to work through those. Have you ever in your life, had a good friend, spouse or family member that you’ve had a disagreement with and then you draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This person is out of my life.’? Well no, I mean, how do you do that? No, you work through it and hopefully you come out the other side better because of it.”
Ballard hopes Taylor plays a significant role in the future of the franchise seeking its first divisional title since 2014. When asked why the Colts chose not to pay Taylor if the organization believes he is a great player, Ballard repeated himself replying, “We won four games last year.”
Listen to the full press conference with GM Chris Ballard at the Colts headquarters.