The Colts have signed head coach Frank Reich and GM Chris Ballard to brand new contracts. The extensions will keep both of them in place through the 2026 season.
“In Chris Ballard and Frank Reich, we have as great a General Manager-head coach combination as there is in the NFL, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to have them leading our franchise,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a press release.
“I truly believe this football team is on the doorstep of great things, and that’s because of the culture both have cultivated in their time with the Horseshoe. Whether we are marching toward the playoffs or facing adversity, whether we are building our roster or making a difference in the community, we have the ideal leaders in Chris and Frank.”
Ballard spent 12 seasons with the Bears and served asJohn Dorsey‘s right-hand man in Kansas City before joining the Colts in January of 2017. One year later, after the Josh McDaniels mess, he hired Reich. Things have worked out pretty well since then — the Colts have gone 28-20 over the last three seasons with and two playoff berths.
“I really believe that you will see a golden era develop as we go into this decade sitting here in 2021,” Irsay said earlier this year. “I believe it with all my heart and soul. There is good reason to believe it. You talk to people around the league and people that know, they are going to agree with what I’m saying when they look at Chris Ballard and Frank Reich and the expectations going into this decade that we have for both of them leading the team.”
Despite going 50 years between their second and third Super Bowl appearances, the Chiefs have become the AFC’s best team to start the 2020s. They became the only non-Patriots AFC team to reach back-to-back Super Bowls since the Broncos more than 20 years ago and, per BetOnline.ag, are slight preseason favorites to win Super Bowl LVI.
Although Andy Reid is rightfully associated with the franchise going from a 2-14 2012 season to seven playoff appearances over the next eight years, the Chiefs developed some front office talent during this span. The Reid-John Dorsey power structure included key lieutenants, and two of those — Chris Ballard and Brett Veach — took steps toward future GM posts on this day six years ago.
On May 29, 2015, the Chiefs promoted both to the jobs they held when GM offers came. Ballard rose from Chiefs player personnel director to director of football operations, and Veach climbed to a co-director of player personnel post. Both execs served as key Dorsey sidekicks, with Ballard in particular drawing frequent outside interest. Ballard and Veach came to Kansas City along with Reid in 2013.
The Bears, Ballard’s team before he joined the Chiefs, interviewed he and Ryan Pace for their GM post on the same day in January 2015. That job ended up going to Pace, who remains Chicago’s GM. Ballard also surfaced on the Jets and Lions’ GM radars and interviewed for the Titans’ GM post that went to Jon Robinson. The Chiefs denied the 49ers permission to speak with Ballard in early 2017. The Colts hired him months later.
Veach has worked with Reid since breaking into the NFL as an Eagles intern in 2004. A step behind Ballard in Kansas City, Veach did not interview for any outside GM jobs like his former coworker. But the Chiefs ended up promoting him to replace Dorsey, whom Clark Hunt fired in June 2017, shortly after Ballard left for Indianapolis. Both GM rises have produced success.
The Colts quickly rebounded from three straight playoff absences, having made the playoffs in two of the past three years. Indianapolis did so despite some stunning sequences — Josh McDaniels‘ bailing on a head coaching agreement and Andrew Luck abruptly retiring — proving temporary setbacks. Although measured in free agency, Ballard, 51, has been aggressive on the trade market in recent years — as deals for DeForest Buckner and Carson Wentz have shown.
Following the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV victory, the team gave Veach a six-year extension. Veach, 43, played a key role in the then-Dorsey-led Chiefs trading up for Patrick Mahomes in 2017 and as GM helped give the superstar quarterback help. After revamping Kansas City’s porous defense in 2019, Veach extended Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones in 2020. The Mahomes deal remains the NFL’s richest pact, at $45MM annually, though its 10-year structure stands to benefit the Chiefs.
With Philip Rivers retiring and Jacoby Brissett hitting free agency, the Colts will surely be looking for a quarterback this offseason. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization will take a signal-caller with their first-round pick. Speaking to reporters this week, general manager ChrisBallard said he doubts a worthy quarterback will fall to the Colts No. 21.
“It’s a good class,” Ballard said (via Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star). “It’s a good class. I’ll say that. They all get pushed up now. We’re seeing it. They all get pushed up. A little bit of luck has to come into play.”
Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, or Justin Fields are expected to be top-10 picks, meaning Ballard would have to pull off a significant trade to acquire any of those top-tier quarterback prospects. The general manager also made it clear that the organization wouldn’t select a quarterback for the sake of selecting a quarterback, perhaps taking them out of the running for second-tier QBs like Trey Lance and Mac Jones.
“Go back and look at first-round quarterbacks drafted over the past 10 years. Everyone just thinks you take one, and you’re going to fix the problem,” Ballard said. “Look, taking one will get y’all off my (butt) for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn’t play well, I’m gonna be the first one run out the building.
“Go back and look at first-round quarterbacks drafted over the past 10 years. Everyone just thinks you take one, and you’re going to fix the problem. Look, taking one will get y’all off my (butt) for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn’t play well, I’m gonna be the first one run out the building.”
The Colts currently have one quarterback on their active roster: 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason. The Washington product didn’t get into a game during his rookie season, and the team will surely provide him with some competition for the starting gig. However, that competition may not end up coming via the draft.
January 5th, 2021 at 1:44pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
We’ve been passing along a ton of notes on GM interviews and searches, so we thought we’d switch things up a little bit with a couple of non-vacancy related GM items. First off, Colts GM Chris Ballard has done a great job leading Indy through some bumpy times, and it sounds like he’s about to be rewarded. The Colts intend on extending his contract, which runs through May of 2022, before training camp starts in July, owner Jim Irsay told Zak Keefer of The Athletic. Head coach Frank Reich is under contract longer so his situation isn’t as pressing, but Irsay also told Keefer that Reich isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which obviously isn’t surprising.
Even after Josh McDaniels famously backed out of taking the head coaching job at the last minute, and even after Andrew Luck retired right before the start of last season, Ballard has done a commendable job keeping things steady and under control. He’s also made some great middle round draft picks, his blockbuster trade for DeForest Buckner has worked out really well, and his bold move to sign Philip Rivers this offseason resulted in an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. The Colts have a few question marks, but things seem well set up for the future, and Ballard will be the architect for a long time it sounds like.
Here’s more from front offices around the league:
The Jets fired Adam Gase this week, and when they hire a new head coach, there could be a change in the hierarchy to go with it. Recently Jets coaches and GMs have both reported directly to owners/chairman Woody and Christopher Johnson, which has led to a fair bit of drama and chaos. Now with Joe Douglas as GM, that might no longer be the case. Christopher raved about Douglas during his end of year media availability, and said “a change in structure is under consideration, no question,” meaning the new head coach may work under Douglas and report to him, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY tweets. It looks like Douglas is cementing his grip on power in the building this offseason, and the new head coach might not have as much clout within the building as guys like Gase, Todd Bowles, and Rex Ryan did.
Ok, now back to interviews. As soon as the Broncosannounced their major shakeup yesterday with John Elway hiring a GM and giving up roster control, people highlighted Champ Kelly as a name to watch. Kelly, currently an exec with the Bears, was in Denver from 2007-14. Now the interest is official, as the team has requested an interview with him, Mike Klis of Denver 9 News tweets. It’s early in the process, but by all accounts Kelly is one of the favorites for the job. The most interesting thing to come out of this search though might be the dynamic between the new GM and Elway, who will still be lingering over the whole operation as president of football ops. It has the potential to get messy.
The Texans continued their search as they start from scratch in the post-Bill O’Brien era, interviewing Steelers exec Omar Khan on Monday. Khan has been in Pittsburgh in various roles since all the way back in 2001, and currently serves as their chief contract negotiator. He’s received a bit of GM buzz in the past, but not a ton.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have requested to interview Saints assistant GM Terry Fontenot, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. We’ve already heard that Fontenot will interview with the Lions and Falcons, so he appears to be a hot candidate this time around. We heard yesterday that Fontenot is a “very strong” candidate for the Detroit job.
McLaughlin bounced around last year, appearing in games for the Colts, Chargers, and 49ers. He started off the 2019 season with the Vikings’ practice squad, and they’re bringing him back in 2020 to serve as extra insurance for Dan Bailey. Earlier this summer, he lost out on the Colts’ kicking job when Chris Ballard & Co. chose rookie Rodrigo Blankenship.
When we ran down the longest-tenured head coaches in the NFL, we found that less than half of the league’s current coaches have been in their positions for more than three years. That’s not quite the case with general managers, but there have been plenty of changes in recent years.
A handful of general managers have gotten to take their coats off and stay for a long while. Among coaches, Bill Belichick had joined his team prior to 2003. Here, you’ll see that five GMs have been with their teams since before ’03 (Belichick, of course, is also on this list). Two of those five – Jerry Jones and Mike Brown – are outliers, since they’re team owners and serve as de facto GMs. But the Patriots, Steelers, and Saints, have all had the same general managers making their roster decisions for well over a decade.
Here’s the complete list of the NFL’s longest-tenured GMs, along with the date they took over the job:
Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys): April 18, 1989
Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals): August 5, 1991
Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
Kevin Colbert (Pittsburgh Steelers): February 18, 2000
MickeyLoomis (New Orleans Saints): May 14, 2002
Rick Spielman (Minnesota Vikings): May 30, 2006
Thomas Dimitroff (Atlanta Falcons): January 13, 2008
John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks): January 19, 2010
Howie Roseman (Philadelphia Eagles): January 29, 2010
John Elway (Denver Broncos): January 5, 2011
Les Snead (St. Louis Rams): February 10, 2012
David Caldwell (Jacksonville Jaguars): January 8, 2013
Steve Keim (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2013
Tom Telesco (San Diego Chargers): January 9, 2013
Jason Licht (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 21, 2014
Ryan Pace (Chicago Bears): January 8, 2015
Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins): January 4, 2016
Bob Quinn (Detroit Lions): January 8, 2016
Jon Robinson (Tennessee Titans): January 14, 2016
John Lynch (San Francisco 49ers): January 29, 2017
Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts): January 30, 2017
Brandon Beane (Buffalo Bills): May 9, 2017
Brett Veach (Kansas City Chiefs): July 11, 2017
Marty Hurney (Carolina Panthers): July 19, 2017
Dave Gettleman (New York Giants): December 28, 2017
Brian Gutekunst (Green Bay Packers): January 7, 2018
Mike Mayock (Oakland Raiders): December 31, 2018
Joe Douglas (New York Jets): June 7, 2019
Eric DeCosta (Baltimore Ravens): January 7, 2019
Ron Rivera (Washington Redskins): January 1, 2020
Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns): January 27, 2020
Bill O’Brien (Houston Texans): January 28, 2020
Jones has been the Cowboys’ de facto general manager since former GM Tex Schramm resigned in April 1989.
Brown has been the Bengals’ de facto GM since taking over as the team’s owner in August 1991.
Belichick has been the Patriots’ de facto GM since shortly after being hired as the team’s head coach in January 2000.
Colbert was initially hired as the team’s director of football operations and received the newly-created general manager title in 2011.
Spielman was initially hired as the team’s VP of player personnel and received the GM title in 2012.
While Schneider holds the title of GM, head coach Pete Carroll has the final say on roster moves for the Seahawks.
Elway was initially hired as the team’s executive VP of football operations and received the GM title in 2014.
In 2018, the Ravens announced that DeCosta would replace Ozzie Newsome as GM for Ozzie Newsome after the conclusion of the season. The Ravens’ ’18 season ended with their Wild Card loss to the Chargers on 1/6/19.
Technically, the Redskins do not have a GM, as of this writing. Rivera is, effectively, their GM, working in tandem with Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith. Smith may receive the GM title in the near future.
Chris Ballard‘s first season as Colts GM didn’t necessarily go as planned. While the executive focused on a complete roster makeover, the Colts 4-12 record was surely disappointing. Fortunately, the team took a step forward in 2019, and that was partly attributed to Ballard’s work during the offseason.
Ballard fired ChuckPagano after the campaign, and following a fiasco with Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels, the organization ended up hiring FrankReich as their new head coach. The organization also hit a home run during the draft, as QuentonNelson and DariusLeonard became the first rookie teammates to earn All Pro First-Team honors since 1965. The Colts ended up going 10-6 during the regular season before losing in the Divisional Round, and Ballard earned the 2018 NFL Executive of the Year award from the Pro Football Writers Association.
The organization will now look to build off their progress from 2018, and the Colts appear to be a shoo-in to at least make the playoffs. However, before the season begins, Ballard decided to take on a bit of a different role.
The Colts GM filled in on Peter King’s Football Morning in America column, and he provided some fascinating insight regarding the team’s draft strategy. The entire article is worth reading (Ballard went on a tangent describing why running back EdgerrinJames should be in the Hall of Fame), but we’ve compiled some of the notable soundbites below.
What the front office values when evaluating draft picks:
We define football character as a player’s work ethic, passion for the game, football intelligence, competitive nature, and teamness. If any of these areas are weak, the chances of the player busting and not fitting in our locker room becomes greater. An NFL season is long and hard. The character of each individual player and the entire team shows up, either good or bad, during the hard times. It is difficult to get through a rough stretch if your players don’t have mental toughness.
We go the extra mile to delve into players and see how they’ll fit. You are telling the locker room every time you draft a player, “this is what we stand for.” If you bring in someone with a poor work ethic, or someone who is selfish, or someone who is unwilling to put in the work, you’re telling the locker room that that’s OK. Jerry Angelo used to say all the time that the talent of a player will tell you his ceiling, but his football character determines his floor. It’s critical to get that right, so we know the floor.
Let’s take our first pick this year, Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, and examine the process of how we reached our final decision, from the initial scouting report to draft day.
What traits make up an Colts cornerback? Is it possible to pick a Colts cornerback out of a crowd? The answer is yes and there are a few things we look for. Ya-Sin had them all:
• Size and length. Ya-Sin is 5-foot-11 with 32-inch arms, which are considered long for a cornerback.
• Instincts and ball skills. Yup.
• Toughness. It’s impossible to play our scheme if you’re not tough. Frank Reich’s definition of toughness: A relentless pursuit to get better every day; an obsession to finish. Ya-Sin is a two-time state champion high school wrestler, fitting this definition to a T.
Some of these traits might seem generic, and, yes, you can find most of these qualities if you look hard enough. However, each player is not always drawn up that way.
On the Colts’ unique interviewing process:
When I first took the job in Indianapolis, I wanted to find an expert who could help us get to the core of a player’s football character. We found the perfect person in Brian Decker, a former Green Beret and now our director of player development. He uses a model he developed in the military and applies toward our interview process. He interviews every prospect on our draft board and teaches our scouts specific interviewing techniques.
I am not going to give away any trade secrets but here are the five questions Decker wants to get the answers to:
• Does this player have a favorable developmental profile?
• Does he have a profile that supports handling pressure and adversity?
• Does he have a good learning and decision-making capacity?
• Is he a character risk and, if so, what can we do to help support him?
On draft night, we felt like we would have a chance to move back in the draft and pick up an extra pick that weekend or in a future year. We have a strong belief that the more picks that we can acquire, the better it is for our team in the end. We don’t want to pass up a difference-making player so we are very thorough working through every scenario before we make the decision to move.
Ya-Sin was one of the players we considered taking as our No. 26 pick in the first round before we got a call from the Redskins. We felt like Washington’s 2019 second-round pick and the extra second-round selection in the 2020 draft was a very good offer and would be worth the trade back with the players we still had on the board. What also helped was that our No. 34 pick, acquired from the Jets the previous year, was only eight picks away.
The next day, there were five players we still liked who were available at No. 34, and the draft room was split. Half of the room thought we should trade again and acquire another second and third-round pick, and the other half wanted to stay at No. 34 and pick Ya-Sin.
On what rival team deserves credit for their team-building strategies:
JohnSchneider and his staff in Seattle do not get enough credit for what they have done in the past two years. They built a great team, won a Super Bowl and lost another on one of the great plays in NFL history by New England. Like all great things, they eventually come to an end, but what John and his staff have done to retool Seattle’s roster on the fly is tremendous work. They have completely rebuilt what was one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and acquired a bunch of young, talented defenders and have a chance to dominate again on defense.
The Colts entered the offseason expected to make several splashes, given the team’s abundance of cap space. That so far has not happened, with the team opting to re-sign players like Adam Vinatieri and Margus Hunt rather than make a move for big names like Trey Flowers and Le’Veon Bell.
On Thursday, general manager Chris Ballard addressed the team’s relative inactivity early in free agency in an appearance on The Jeff and Big Joe Show on 1070 WFAN in Indianapolis on Thursday.
“If we get to a point, and you can read this as you want to read it, a true difference-maker in the free agent market, I’m good paying for,” Ballard said. “But they have to be a true difference-maker, unquestionably. Not the media saying he’s a true difference-maker, the tape saying he’s a true difference-maker.”
That comment obviously means the team didn’t view the likes of Bell, Flowers and even Landon Collins as valuable upgrades over pieces already in place. With more than $70MM still available in cap space, more than $30MM more than the next closest team, the Colts still have plenty of room to make several moves to upgrade the roster with value moves at the back end of free agency.
The team has been more active recently, inking former Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston to a two-year deal and bringing in receiver Devin Funchess as a big-bodied complement to star wideout T.Y. Hilton.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard is known for valuing the draft over free agency. The executive prefers building his team via the draft and then extending his own players, much to the dismay of fans and media who are eyeing a big splash. While the Colts have been active in free agency, they prefer to avoid the bigger names. This has led to the team adding a few gems over the past few years, including tight end Eric Ebron and defensive ends Denico Autry and Jabaal Sheard.
Still, the Colts will be eyeing more than $100MM in cap space heading into free agency, and the team has an opportunity to build off their first playoff appearance since 2014. Considering the team’s cap space and 2018 success, the organization has been connected to a number of big-name free agents.
Ballard recently sat down with Joel A. Erickson of IndyStar.com to discuss the team’s offseason plans and strategy. While he still cautioned that the organization would value the draft over free agency, he did acknowledge that the organization would make a big splash if the price was right. While the entire article is worth reading, we’ve compiled some of the notable soundbites below:
On the perception that he’s not particularly active in free agency:
“I guess I disagree with everybody who says we are not aggressive in free agency…In every other spot I’ve been in, we’ve participated in free agency. I just think it’s got to be the right fit.”
On the team’s philosophy heading into free agency:
“We put a value on a player. When it gets out of our reach, I just think we are comfortable enough to sleep at night saying that we are going to find an answer. Sometimes it might not be the household name that everybody wants us to sign, and that’s OK, I get it, but we are going to find an answer.
“If we think from a free-agent standpoint that we are going to get one of the high-priced (guys), we have a very strict guideline that he’s got to fit. He’s got to fit into the locker room, he is going to have to earn the salary he’s making, not only with his play, but with his impact and his presence within the locker room.”
On why maintaining cap flexibility will be important over the next few years:
“Just look at the roster and look at the contracts that are going to be coming up over the next two- to three-year period. Eventually, what you’d like to happen is you’re paying your own guys, you’re rewarding the guys in the locker room who have done the right things for you.”
On the team’s recent free agent moves:
“Denico Autry, we targeted him from Day 1, and we signed him. Denico Autry ended up being a pretty good player. Just because it might not be who the media is writing about, who the fans are talking about, that doesn’t mean that guy is not a really good player.
“We dabbled into free agency (last year), we just couldn’t find a match. It wasn’t like people were beating our door down to come to Indianapolis. Do I think we are an attractive place? Absolutely, I do.”
Although Matt Eberflus was tied to Josh McDaniels when he accepted the offer to become the Colts‘ defensive coordinator, Stephen Holder of The Athletic notes (subscription required) Chris Ballard was the driving force behind the then-Cowboys linebackers coach moving to Indianapolis. The second-year Colts GM held Ebeflus in such high regard that he may have been the DC choice without McDaniels’ involvement, though likely not had the Colts hired a defensively geared coach. But in nearly all of the interviews the Colts conducted, Holder reports Eberflus’ name was broached. Despite a host of young players for a unit not expected to be particularly strong, the first-year DC has the Colts holding the No. 11 DVOA defense going into Week 15. The 2017 Colts produced the No. 27 DVOA defense.
The latest from some South teams, continuing to Tampa.
It is possible DeSean Jackson has played his final game with the Buccaneers. Playing on a contract that includes no additional guaranteed money, the 32-year-old wide receiver had his injured thumb immobilized, Greg Auman of The Athletic tweets. Jackson has been unable to grip footballs with his injured hand, forcing him to miss the past two Bucs games. He had previously played through this malady, per Auman (on Twitter). Tampa Bay’s top deep threat hopes to play again this season, but that’s not a lock. And with a nonguaranteed $10MM base salary on the Bucs’ books next year, Jackson is a prime release candidate in 2019.
Most believe Buccaneers GM Jason Licht has a better chance of returning in 2019 than Dirk Koetter does, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com writes. Despite the Bucs still staring at what will likely soon become an 11-season playoff drought, Licht’s ability to draft and extend the likes of Mike Evans and Cameron Brate has pleased ownership, Laine adds. Licht signed an extension that takes him through the 2019 season, but it remains possible the Glazers move on from he, Koetter and Jameis Winston and start fresh next year.
Arthur Blank said he has not lost faith in Thomas Dimitroff or Dan Quinn, but the Falcons have since endured another one-sided defeat and now sit 4-9. They already made other moves, like replacing highly paid right tackle Ryan Schraeder with Ty Sambrailo, for the future. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes more losses will continue to cause suspicion as to whether Blank will change his mind and pivot to a new power structure.
Derek Newton‘s Saintscontract is a two-year pact, according to his agency (Twitter link). It appears the Saints will use their upcoming practices to gauge whether the former longtime Texans right tackle is fit enough to the point he could be more than an injury fill-in.