Chris Ballard

Colts GM Discusses Draft Strategy, Ya-Sin, Seahawks

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 Chuck Pagano after the campaign, and following a fiasco with Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels, the organization ended up hiring Frank Reich as their new head coach. The organization also hit a home run during the draft, as Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard 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 Edgerrin James 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.

On second-round cornerback Rock Ya-Sin:

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?

• Is he a fit?

On the team’s draft maneuverings:

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:

John Schneider 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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts GM Discusses Inactivity Early In Free Agency

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts GM Discusses Free Agency Strategy

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.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Notes: Colts, Bucs, Falcons, Newton

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 Saints contract 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.

South Rumors: Colts, Saints, Jarrett, Jags

Chris Ballard‘s operational style through two offseasons has the Colts in rebuilding mode. They possess the second-most cap space ($51MM) and are projected to hold an NFL-high $126MM in 2019. However, the Colts are 1-5 and may be set for their worst two-year stretch since the Jim Harbaugh-to-Peyton Manning transition produced six wins between the 1997-98 seasons. Ownership isn’t wavering on the Ballard hire, though, per Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. Ballard’s been intent on building from within, with Keefer pointing out the Colts were never a serious Le’Veon Bell trade contender nor were they going to entertain a Dez Bryant signing. Only one defensive starter, Clayton Geathers, remains from the Ryan Grigson era. Although, especially during T.Y. Hilton‘s absence, the Colts have been reeling at wideout. They let Donte Moncrief walk and didn’t address the position when promising rookie Deon Cain was lost for the season, so the GM deserves some blame for the state of this spot, Keefer adds.

It will be interesting to see if Ballard deviates from his methods when the Colts begin working with that staggering amount of cap space come 2019. Here’s the latest from other South locales:

  • The Falcons will have the services of Grady Jarrett on Monday night against the Giants, Dan Quinn said. The team’s top interior defender missed the past two games because of an ankle injury. This will be key for the Falcons, who have lost several defenders thus far this season, and Jarrett, with the 2015 fifth-round pick being in a contract year.
  • Teddy Bridgewater is also in a walk year, and the timing of the Saints‘ trade to acquire the Jets reserve passer suggests they’ll be interested in attempting to convince the former first-round pick to stay as Drew Brees‘ successor. But next year’s quarterback market doesn’t look to be as strong as this year’s, and Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com doesn’t expect Bridgewater to be with the Saints in 2019. Bridgewater signed with the Jets for one year and $6MM, with an incentive package that can now be classified as NLTBE. Prior to any major cuts, Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor stand to be the centerpiece attractions in the 2019 free agent quarterback class. Katzenstein expects Bridgewater to wait and sign for far more money than the Saints, with Brees still operating in high gear, will be willing to pay him.
  • No quarterback’s taken more sacks than Deshaun Watson (25), and the Texans will be without one of their top blockers on Sunday. Zach Fulton is out for Week 7’s Houston-Jacksonville game. The fifth-year guard is dealing with an ankle injury.
  • The Jaguarstrade for Carlos Hyde seems to suggest they’re concerned about Leonard Fournette going forward, but Hays Carlyon of 1010XL (on Twitter) doesn’t believe the second-year running back endured a setback and expects him to suit up in Week 10 after the Jags’ bye. Fournette’s been dealing with hamstring trouble throughout the season, and Carlyon adds this move was likely more about the Jags’ fear of being shorthanded for much longer rather than Fournette suffering another setback.

Colts DC Matt Eberflus Discusses McDaniels Ordeal

Back in January, Matt Eberflus was hired to be Josh McDaniel‘s defensive coordinator in Indy. Of course, things quickly changed. After having accepted the gig, McDaniels rejected the Colts and decided to stick with the Patriots.

The Colts ended up settling on Frank Reich as their new head coach, but general manager Chris Ballard still ended up honoring the coaching contracts that had already been signed. That meant that despite the unexpected coaching change, Eberflus ended up sticking around as the Colts’ defensive coordinator.

While the Colts’ front office has been pretty clear about their feeling on McDaniel’s flip-flopping, the team’s coaching staff has been relatively quiet. Thanks to an ongoing interview series by Andrew Walker on Colts.com, we’ve got to hear some of Eberflus’ thoughts on the ordeal. While the entire article is worth reading, we’ve highlighted some of the notable soundbites below…

On his reaction to Josh McDaniel’s decision to not take the Colts coaching gig and remain with the Patriots:

“Yeah, when you get a situation like that — and I was here with Chris (Ballard), because Chris and I had been talking and I got hired here beforehand — so to me it was a situation where I trusted in Chris, where Chris’ vision was and what he was doing, what he’s all about — the kind of man he is; really the kind of organization this is, from Mr. (Jim) Irsay all the way down. And, to me, it was not unsettling at all. It was very calming to me; it wasn’t a problem, and I knew I wanted to be here, and I’m excited to be here in Indianapolis.”

On whether he was questioning his job security after the team hired Frank Reich as their head coach:

“No. Nope. As soon as it happened, Chris walked right in my office and we had a conversation, and it was done from that point.”

On his feelings about the defensive coordinator gig after learning about McDaniel’s decision:

“Well, you know what? In life adversities happen, and it’s how you handle them that count.”

On transitioning his mindset from being McDaniel’s defensive coordinator to being Reich’s defensive coordinator:

“Well, I just found out right from the beginning what kind of guy Frank Reich is. I mean, he is a high-character — same with Chris, same with Mr. Irsay. You find that out when those things happen, and you’re dealing with solid individuals and a solid franchise. And, to me, it was, ‘Step forward from there and let’s go.’”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts Notes: Luck, Anderson, Barrett

It was reported over the weekend that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck drew trade interest from teams as far back as the 2017 trade deadline. Team owner Jim Irsay addressed those rumors, saying teams were willing to part with a small fortune to acquire the quarterback, Fox 59’s Mike Chappell writes.

“Trust me, there were people who would have given an unprecedented amount of draft picks – all with the No. 1 behind them – for him,’’ Irsay said. “And we wouldn’t even think of even drifting in that direction. He’s our guy. We feel 100 percent confident he’s going to come back and lead this football team with some of the new teammates . . . to great things.”

Though he missed the entire 2017 season and has yet to resume throwing, Luck would still almost assuredly force teams trying to acquire him to give up multiple No. 1s and then some. A franchise quarterback who is just 28 years old rarely if ever pops up on the market. Not that there is a market, as the Colts reportedly laughed off inquiries at the time.

Luck led the Colts to an 11-5 mark and the playoffs in each of his first three seasons before missing half of the 2015 season with an injury. He returned and played 15 games the following campaign, going 8-7 and just missing the postseason. Though he was reportedly close to throwing a ball in January, Luck told reporters in early April that he has yet to throw an NFL-sized ball and is not rushing it.

Here’s more with the Colts:

  • In addition to laughing off trade requests, team general manager Chris Ballard told reporters about trading Andrew Luck — “I’m not putting that on my resume,” Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk writes. Though Irsay notes teams were willing to give up a king’s ransom for the quarterback, Ballard didn’t seem to be interested in the move no matter the cost.
  • On Saturday, the Colts shipped defensive lineman Henry Anderson to the Jets in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Addressing the trade, Ballard said the deal was based on scheme fit, saying Anderson worked better with the Jets than Indy, Chappell tweets.
  • Ballard also added that the team is bringing in former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett for rookie minicamp and that he is not signed to the team, Chappell tweets. Barrett registered one of the greatest runs as a Buckeye, setting the school record with 38 victories, becoming the team’s only three-time captain and leading the team to a 4-0 record over rival Michigan.

 

Extra Points: Bucs, Hargreaves, Seahawks

A video of Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves smoking a cigarette containing an unknown substance surfaced on Instagram this week, as Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times details. Hargreaves, a University of Florida product, has struggled in the first two years of his young career. Last year, the Bucs tried employing Hargreaves as their nickel cornerback before a hamstring injury ended his season after nine games.

The video alone is unlikely to get Hargreaves into trouble with the law or the NFL, but a positive test for a banned substance such as marijuana would violate the league’s substance abuse policy. All in all, it’s simply not a good look for a player who has failed to make good on his first-round status.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • At the owners’ meetings, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times (Twitter link) heard Mark Sanchez‘s name “as a possibility” for the Seahawks. Someone like Sanchez could serve as a veteran backup to Russell Wilson now that Trevone Boykin is out of the picture.
  • The “Josh McDaniels rule” which would have allowed assistant coaches to sign on as head coaches elsewhere during the playoffs did not pass at this week’s owners’ meetings. Surprisingly, Colts GM Chris Ballard was not among those in support of the rule. “When you’re a playoff team, you’re trying to eliminate all the distractions that you can. And we’re going to be a playoff team and we’re going to have these issues,” Ballard said (via Stephen Holder of the Indy Star). “It becomes a slippery slope. We have rules in place for a reason. I think they’re good rules. It gives you a chance to interview and then, after the season, whatever happens, happens. In our case, he changed his mind and we moved on.”
  • New Broncos defender Su’a Cravens has the ability to play both safety and linebacker, but the team views him strictly as a safety, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The Broncos acquired Cravens from Washington on Wednesday in a deal that will net the Redskins a fifth-round pick plus upgraded picks in the fourth and fifth round and a conditional sixth-round choice in 2020.

Belichick Did Most To Sway McDaniels?

Josh McDaniels‘ seminal Tuesday in Foxborough included conversations with both Robert and Jonathan Kraft, but afternoon discussions with Bill Belichick had the most influence on the longtime Patriots OC, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reports.

Belichick’s offer included involving McDaniels in conversations about the inner workings of the franchise, from roster construction to cap considerations, and Reiss reports the 42-year-old OC viewed this opportunity as “extremely valuable.”

While Reiss reports Belichick did not explicitly talk McDaniels out of going to the Colts, he could see his longtime assistant was wavering on this decision. The hours of meetings with the Patriots on Tuesday led to a five-minute phone call with Chris Ballard on Tuesday nightReiss notes. While Ballard wished McDaniels luck and didn’t try to talk him out of the about-face maneuver, Reiss reports the second-year GM was “pissed and angry” because this decision “blindsided” him.

Ballard and McDaniels had spoken earlier that morning, with the second-year Colts GM calling to check in on McDaniels and finalize plans for his Wednesday arrival in Indiana. The would-be Colts coach informed Ballard his press conference suit was already chosen, per Reiss. But this obviously changed once Patriots brass — whom multiple outlets have reported did not exercise previous opportunities during the season to express their desire to keep McDaniels — went to work.

However, Reiss notes McDaniels has said privately in the past he does not want to succeed Belichick as HC. He might not have a choice, in the event McDaniels wants to rebuild his reputation as a head coach after a dubious run with the Broncos, after the events of this week.

I don’t think he can ever be a head coach in the NFL,” a former GM told ESPN’s Mike Sando. “I wouldn’t take a chance hiring him. I know it is a stressful time, but what happens again with Josh when the s— gets tight? Does he do the same thing? That is what I would worry about in hiring him as a head coach. That is why I would just pass.

If the owner develops a relationship with him, he has a chance, but GMs will be scared to death.”

McDaniels and perennial GM candidate Nick Caserio‘s close relationship may be the biggest key to a possible chance outside of New England, if/when Caserio takes a GM job. But for now, these two and Belichick will remain as the Patriots’ top decision-makers.

Latest On Josh McDaniels’ Decision, Future

Josh McDaniels will be staying in New England on an unusual contract, with Albert Breer of SI.com hearing the Patriots‘ OC is expected to sign a four- or five-year extension. Coordinators’ deals typically do not run this long, but with the Patriots convincing their longtime play-caller to make this kind of a decision, it makes sense they’d want to keep McDaniels around long-term. Breer notes McDaniels’ current contract is believed to expire after the 2018 season, so the sides figure to hammer out an agreement soon.

Here’s the latest on the McDaniels saga:

  • Nick Caserio‘s presence was a key factor in McDaniels’ decision to spurn the Colts, Breer reports. The Patriots executive’s choice to stay in Foxborough last year likely kept McDaniels from moving to the Bay Area. The tandem would likely be running the 49ers had Caserio become their GM. The two played college football together in Ohio in the 1990s and will continue to be Bill Belichick‘s right-hand men.
  • As for Belichick, Breer notes he’s not operating like a coach who is planning an exit strategy. “He’s certainly not acting like he’s leaving anytime soon,” a source informed Breer. The 65-year-old coach will be entering his 19th season with the Patriots in 2018. While McDaniels may be the heir apparent, Belichick staying on for multiple years would likely drain the remainder of Tom Brady‘s historically long prime and make it more difficult for the prospective McDaniels teams to build on the Belichick squads’ legacies.
  • It appears McDaniels did call the three non-Patriots assistants who were set to be on his first Colts staff. Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets McDaniels phoned Matt Eberflus, Mike Phair and Dave DeGuglielmo to alert them of this seminal about-face. The three have signed deals with the Colts, leaving Chuck Pagano‘s actual successor with an interesting predicament. Chris Ballard said he wanted Eberflus to run his defense regardless of McDaniels’ arrival, however.
  • As for why McDaniels initially became enamored with the Colts, their second-year GM served as the chief reason he was once all set to move to Indianapolis, Breer notes. McDaniels holds Ballard in high regard, and although Andrew Luck was a prime selling point, the Colts’ top decision-maker was the primary reason behind the would-be McDaniels New England exodus.
  • Despite the Patriots’ offensive success under McDaniels, Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com writes NFL teams were slow to offer him a second chance after how badly his Broncos tenure went. Robinson noted some around the league questioned whether the 42-year-old assistant had really matured much since his failed Denver stint. The Giants appear to have felt he didn’t. McDaniels became a hot commodity in recent years but now has effectively set a potential bridge to an HC job outside of Massachusetts ablaze. Although, Cesario landing a GM job could lead to an attempt to sell his owner on McDaniels sometime down the line.
  • Not only do the Colts not have any legal recourse they can take after being burned here, Mike Wells and Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com write they don’t look to have grounds for a grievance with the league. McDaniels never signed Colts contract or stopped being the Patriots’ OC.