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INDIANAPOLIS Following the close to his 7th season as general manager of the Colts, Chris Ballard met the media on Thursday afternoon.

Ballard spoke for nearly an hour, in his first press conference since the end of August.

Let’s focus on 10 takeaways from Ballard’s season-ending press conference:


1. Mad, But Have Hope

-Ballard Quote: “I f-ing hate losing. I’m tired of not being in the playoffs. But I’m encouraged.”

-Analysis: The sting from what happened on Saturday night is there. However, Chris Ballard is also quite pleased not to be having to find the answer at head coach and/or quarterback this offseason, unlike last January. That’s where the encouragement comes for, because Ballard can’t point to his resume for that. The 7-year Ballard resume still says 0 division titles, 1 playoff win and 2 playoff appearances. And now the Colts are entering a new AFC South era, which is no longer a laughing stock division. Ballard answered “damn right” when asked on Thursday if he feels urgency heading into his 8th year. The Colts are finally down a path of hope though, thanks to Shane Steichen and Anthony Richardson.


2. Expect Gus Bradley Back

Ballard Quote: “We did do some good things on defense, but the points need to come down.”

-Analysis: The expectation is Gus Bradley will return for a 3rd year as defensive coordinator. Ballard confirmed that Bradley is under contract for the 2024 season and said he expects the veteran coach back. Now, as far as the overall defense is concerned, Ballard took on more of the blame for the Colts ranking 28th in points allowed each of the last two seasons. More specifically, Ballard pointed to his commitment to wanting a youth movement in the secondary for some of the rougher moments from the back end over the last two years. Ballard thinks that commitment will play off down the road. The GM is optimistic about the futures of young cornerbacks JuJu Brents and Jaylon Jones. Ballard liked the number of sacks this season from the Colts, but also acknowledges that they still need to be a little more disruption there.


3. Pittman Is A Priority

Ballard Quote: “I care deeply about him. Him and I, we have a good relationship. It’s too honest sometimes. But that’s what I love about him. The guy is competitive, he’s tough, he cares, he wants to win. We are going to work to get him back. We’ll work through that.”

-Analysis: Chris Ballard loves him some Michael Pittman Jr. And for much more than just being a consistent, reliable wide receiver. Ballard said in an ideal world the Colts would not use the franchise tag, but also called it a “tool” available for the free agency process, and not something he would be worried about the ramifications of using it. Again, I would be surprised if Pittman Jr. did not return to the Colts in 2024. How that looks though (franchise tag?) remains to be seen. The franchise tag deadline runs February 20th-March 5th, with free agency starting March 13th.


4. Anthony Richardson Intrigue

Ballard Quote: “We don’t know yet, but we are encouraged about what we saw. Let’s don’t crown him, don’t stamp him, we are not there. We have a lot of work to do. And he has a lot of work to do. But it’s encouraging.”

-Analysis: This answer, ironically, falls in a very similar line to Ballard’s general thinking exiting 2023. One thing that really struck Ballard from watching Richardson is that he can be a legit passer in this league, and play from the pocket—which is something that Ballard has already stressed in projecting quarterbacks to having staying power in this league. The GM pointed to the Colts being right around 10th in explosive plays when Richardson was playing. Playing style wise, Ballard doesn’t label Richardson as “reckless” but knowing that he must realize you can’t get away from everything you might have college athleticism wise and “learning when to get out of bounds vs. when to go for it.” Ballard loves how Richardson is wired, as a teammate and as a worker.


5. Not Too Worried About Off The Field

Ballard Quote: “People make mistakes. I think sometimes we forget that. Guys make mistakes. They get punished for it. I’m not going to sit here and act like we are perfect. Personal character and football character are two separate things. Guys who love to play vs. how they behave off the field and treat people. We want them both to be great. We do. And we’ve been pretty good about it. But guys made mistakes, they pay the price for it and we move forward. Second chances are okay in life. I think you know even the guys that were here and what happened to them, I don’t think any of you would characterize them as bad character guys. They made mistakes.”

-Analysis: This was Ballard’s response to being asked about the Colts having 8 suspensions, including an arrest, since June. Personally, I was a little surprised by this answer from Ballard. A total of 8 suspensions and an arrest in a 6-month period is an absurd amount for any NFL franchise, let alone the Colts. You would have to go back years to find the Colts with that number of suspensions/arrests, let alone in half a year. Do some of these fall more in ‘personal’ character vs. ‘football’ character? Definitely. But this many off the field instances leading to 8 suspensions, all of them of the multiple-game variety, is a huge number. When asked specifically about Drew Ogletree’s domestic violence arrest, Ballard offered a no comment in letting the legal process play out.


6. Big Fan of Shane Steichen

Ballard Quote: “Dialed in. Always dialed in. All ball. What’s more impressive to me is there’s never a lack of confidence or a seed of a doubt in his mind in what he’s doing. And he sees the big picture. This is not just an offensive coordinator who became a head coach who calls plays. No, he sees it all…and he’s also extremely demanding, not only of the players, but also of the staff, all of us. He’s going to press because he wants to win.”

-Analysis: Clearly, Chris Ballard is a huge Shane Steichen fan. Ballard also said something early in the presser that the Colts ‘felt like a team again.’ In expanding on that phrase, Ballard said the team felt more connected again, unlike how he felt during the late downslide of the 2021 campaign. The GM pointed out some of that was on him for the players he had on the roster then. Ballard said he felt growth from Steichen as the season moved along and how he played certain games/situations. The GM praised the HC for his recall and for being a “tremendous problem solver,” which Ballard says is an important quality for a head coach.


7. Opportunity To Be Flexible

Ballard Quote: “It opens the world up a little bit, financially, which is a good thing.”

-Analysis: The Colts have more than $70 million in cap space for 2024, with easily the most notable in-house free agents of the Ballard era (Michael Pittman Jr., Grover Stewart, Kenny Moore, Julian Blackmon). But with a rookie contract quarterback in Anthony Richardson, the Colts do not have this giant cap hit or hinderance at QB financially right now. That offers chances to take advantage of open space in the coming years, which hasn’t been as much on the table in going from Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan. On Thursday, Ballard was a tad softer on his usual aggressive stance about dipping too much into free agency. It’ll be interesting to see if the Colts can re-sign all 4 of Pittman Jr., Stewart, Moore AND Blackmon, and also be somewhat active in free agency. Ballard wouldn’t commit to a big chunk of the $70 million to going to in-house guys though, when asked on Thursday. The GM did offer plenty of praise to those 4 gusy though.


8. Get More Explosive

Ballard Quote: “We need to get more explosive.”

-Analysis: When asked about the Colts needs for this team entering 2024, the GM pointed to being more explosive offensively, and limiting such plays defensively. And Ballard thinks the Colts will have some opportunities to add players helping in those areas in free agency and/or the draft. Outside of this phrase, the only other real “need” talk from Thursday was Ballard saying he wanted to “add fuel” to the cornerback position, and acknowledged the free safety position (where Rodney Thomas II and Nick Cross played) needs more consistency. On the explosive front, more playing time from Anthony Richardson should help in that area, too.


9. Backup QB Plan?

Ballard Quote: “I think backup quarterback is going to be very important.”

-Analysis: Yes, Gardner Minshew wants to be a starter in this league. However, weighing that potential opportunity vs. what the Colts might offer under Shane Steichen could be a decision for Gardner Minshew. Ballard appreciated how Colts players believed in Minshew and liked the backup quarterback. Those things aren’t givens in QB2. If Minshew does find a more realistic playing time opportunity elsewhere, it’s clear the Colts are going to be investing into the backup for Richardson.


10. Kwity Paye Decision Remains

Ballard Quote: “Getting better. Excellent versus the run. I think he had his highest sack total this year. He’s got some stuff he needs to work on rushing the passer. He’s a good football player.”

-Analysis: Ballard would not answer if he’ll pick up Kwity Paye’s 5th year team option, with that decision due by the first week of May. Clearly, Ballard is pretty pleased with where Paye is at as an every-down defensive end. While Paye did have a career-high 8.5 sacks, his consistent pressure numbers to not sniff top pass rusher level. That 5th year team option for the 2025 campaign is a pretty high figure, so how the Colts handle that with Paye will be interesting to watch.

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