Chris Ballard

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.

Latest On Colts, Josh McDaniels

On Wednesday morning, GM Chris Ballard faced the media in the wake of Josh McDaniels‘ shocking decision to back out on becoming the team’s next head coach. Here’s a look at the highlights plus other news on McDaniels’ flip-flop:

  • McDaniels’ agent, Bob LaMonte, told him that he’s making perhaps the biggest professional mistake of his career by backing out of this Colts job at this point, according to sources who spoke with Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). On Wednesday afternoon, LaMonte terminated his relationship with McDaniels, a source tells Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (on Twitter). LaMonte is forfeiting a potentially large commission down the road should McDaniels become a head coach again, but he is also protecting future business by distancing himself from the Patriots OC.
  • Colts were going to pay McDaniels “fabulously,” a source tells Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter), so money was not the issue in Indianapolis. Pelissero hears that the coach also wasn’t warded off by Andrew Luck’s injured shoulder, owner Jim Irsay, or Ballard. At the end of the day, the Patriots just convinced him to stay. There’s no new contract in place for McDaniels yet, but Pelissero expects that to happen soon.
  • Ballard says two doctors who looked at Luck after the season have determined that he does not need surgery (Twitter link via Pelissero). Luck’s arm strength is good, the GM says, but he is now working on motion and arm speed. He has yet to pick up a football, but the team will not rush him or skip any steps.
  • The GM confirmed that none of the coaches from the initial wave of interviews will be in the mix, meaning that Kris Richard and Matt Rhule will not be considered (Twitter link via Pelissero).
  • There were other candidates the Colts wanted to interview, Ballard said, but the playoffs got in the way (Twitter link via Stephen Holder of ESPN.com). The Colts are expected to request an interview with Eagles OC Frank Reich and he fits the bill as a coach who was tied up during the playoffs. Of course, the same could be said of McDaniels and that did not stop Indy from interviewing him.
  • The Colts will honor the contract of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and others who have already signed their deals. That’s not an issue for Ballard who explained that he knew Eberflus well through Rod Marinelli. The former Dallas assistant was already a guy he wanted to run his defense.
  • The Colts got an uneasy feeling a week ago that something could be stalling with McDaniels, despite moving forward with his contract (Twitter link via Jay Glazer of FOX Sports).
  • McDaniels arrived at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday with the intention of cleaning out his office, but Bill Belichick‘s willingness to take his mentorship to a higher level played a big part in McDaniels reversing course, sources tell ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss. Belichick told McDaniels that he would spend more time with him on the inner workings of the team, including roster construction and salary-cap management, which was viewed as “extremely valuable” to McDaniels. That could be part of a succession plan for Belichick in the future, but no assurances have been made to McDaniels.

Frank Gore Intends To Play In 2018

Colts running back Frank Gore reiterated on Wednesday that he expects to return in 2018 for his 14th NFL season and that quarterback and offensive line will factor into his decision, ESPN’s Mike Wells writesFrank Gore

“Quarterback, O-line, have to be my type of style of team,” he said. “Nasty, physical, punch you in the mouth. I don’t want to finish like this. I know I can still play. I want to help a team.”

Gore, an impending free agent, would be 35 years old at the start of the 2018 campaign and hasn’t averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry since 2014, his final season in San Francisco. Still, if a team needs an experienced back to groom a a first- or second-year ball carrier or a physical, goal-line back, it’s hard to bet against the veteran.

Gore has cracked 1,000 yards nine times in his career and enters Week 17 just 139 yards away from his 10th such campaign. If he were to reach the mark, Gore would join Emmitt Smith, Walter Peyton, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis as players to achieve the feat 10 times.

Though he is among the league’s elder statesmen, Gore is sure to impress some general manager with his passion for the game. That’s what happened with Colts first-year GM Chris Ballard, who planned on cutting the back before the start of the season, MMQB’s Peter King writes.

“Frank picks up the phone in the middle of a party he was attending, and I could feel his passion and love for football,” Ballard told King. “He went on for 10 minutes about how much he wanted to win. So the next day I went to the office and watched all of his carries from 2016 and came to the conclusion that there was absolutely no way I was letting him out of the building.”

Gore is determined to go out on a high note and there’s no reason to think he won’t have the opportunity in 2018.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC South Notes: Texans, QBs, Colts, Alie-Cox

While the quarterback dominoes could fall before the Texans‘ No. 25 selection window opens, GM Rick Smith does not feel obligated to take a quarterback in Round 1. Of course, it’s not like the veteran decision-maker would say his team has to have a quarterback by a certain point, it is notable Smith said he would be fine with Tom Savage as a Week 1 starter.

I think he’s proven that he can play at a high level in the offense,” Smith said, via Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com. “He’s been injured, so he hasn’t had an extended amount of time to do that, but I am comfortable with that.”

Smith confirmed Houston plans to add a third quarterback going into training camp but didn’t say said passer has to be added through the draft. Although, the 12th-year GM did call this maligned crop of quarterbacks a “good class.” Smith echoed what Bill O’Brien said earlier this offseason, noting the difficulties modern rookies face when taking the reins in Year 1.

It’s rare that you can get a guy that can come in and play at a high level at the position early,” Smith said, via Barshop. “But it’s certainly possible.”

The Texans brought in Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, the latter of whom O’Brien is quite fond of, for visits earlier this week. Both could well be off the board by the time the Texans pick, which could place the team — in the event it doesn’t trade up — with Savage as its Week 1 starter. Potential Day 2 prospect Brad Kaaya also visited this week. The Texans had mild interest in Jay Cutler, but O’Brien prefers Savage to him.

Here’s more from the AFC South.

  • Colts GM Chris Ballard is borrowing a page from “The Cubs Way,” a book about how Theo Epstein reshaped baseball in Chicago. One key similarity between the two decision-makers is their emphasis on young talent. “It takes time to build a team,” Ballard said (via ESPN.com’s Mike Wells). “… Do we have work in front of us? Yes, we do. But it takes time. And the biggest thing that I want to make sure that we’re emphasizing is that competition and they have to earn it. It doesn’t matter where you come from and how we build it or where, from first-round pick to undrafted free agent to street free agent, guy that was cut at the 53-[man roster], future signing.”
  • On a conference call with reporters, new Colts addition Mo Alie-Cox said that the Buccaneers, Chargers, and Seahawks were among the teams that also made offers (Twitter links via Stephen Holder of the Indy Star). The former VCU basketball player added that he picked the Colts in part because coach Chuck Pagano reminded him of (former VCU coach) Shaka Smart. Some teams thought Alie-Cox could play defensive end, but he’ll be a tight end with the Colts.
  • Texans GM Rick Smith said he has not talked to Vince Wilfork since last season, but his “expectation is that Vince is not playing anymore,” Barshop tweets. Wilfork retired after 13 seasons in the league after the Texans’ loss to the Patriots in January.
  • Both Harry Douglas and Da’Norris Searcy accepted paycuts from the Titans this week.

Sam Robinson contributed to this report.

Front Office Rumors: Bills, 49ers, Colts

Earlier today, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com brought us news on the Redskins’ GM search. Further down in his column, he presented more front office news from around the NFL. Here’s a look at the highlights:

  • New Bills coach Sean McDermott could convince ownership to import front office guys with whom he has a relationship. JLC floats the name of Panthers director of player personnel Don Gregory and notes that there are “already rumblings that the marriage of McDermott and Bills GM Doug Whaley” will not last.
  • The 49ers are also looking to add to the front office. This makes sense given that new GM John Lynch is a front office neophyte.
  • New Colts GM Chris Ballard may want to shake up the scouting core, but league sources tell JLC that he may have to wait a year since the evaluators that are already there have more time to go on their contracts. Still, Ballard badly wants to poach Seahawks executive Ed Dodds. If Indy can land him, he’ll probably get a promotion over his current title. Jets director of college scouting Rex Hogan is also a Ballard target, but JLC hears that he still has a good amount of time left on his contract and might be harder to pry away.
  • Bears exec Morocco Brown, who has history with Ballard, could be a possible candidate for the Colts and 49ers. JLC notes that Brown had a solid relationship with new SF coach Kyle Shanahan in D.C.