INDIANAPOLIS – As always, there was a ton to dissect from Chris Ballard’s season-ending press conference.
The next time we hear from Ballard will likely be around the Combine, so his words on Thursday sets up the upcoming weeks of meetings that the Colts will have internally to discuss so many of the matters below.
Here are my top 10 takeaways from Ballard’s presser:
1. Zero Commitment To Carson Wentz
If you are in the camp of Carson Wentz, you are left uneasy after hearing Frank Reich and Chris Ballard this week.
There was zero endorsement of the quarterback remaining the starter in 2022.
Ballard, in particular, was very candid in his critical evaluation of Wentz and the need for better play from him.
At this point, it seems like important decision makers in Jim Irsay and Ballard have very real questions about Wentz moving forward.
Will the lack of available QB options though mean the Colts run it back with Wentz for another season?
2. Lukewarm On Wide Receiver Need
I’m not sure there’s a bigger discrepancy in how the fan base views the wide receiver need compared to Ballard.
While Ballard wouldn’t mind some dynamic talents at the top of the wideout depth chart, he also said he really likes the young WR talent in-house on several occasions.
Ballard thought the year Zach Pascal (a free agent in 2022) had was an outlier. He pointed to the likes of Ashton Dulin, Dezmon Patmon and Mike Strachan as young names to watch.
Unlike his stance on upgrading at tight end or along the defensive line (see more below), wide receiver is not at the forefront of Ballard’s mind when talking about needed improvements.
Of course, if that is how Ballard feels, what does that say about the evaluation of Carson Wentz from last year?
3. Two Needs Above The Rest
For me, I heard two positional needs mentioned the most/with the most vigor from Ballard.
That would be tight end: “Tight end needs work. Depending on what Jack (Doyle) does (retirement decision). Mo Alie-Cox is (a free agent). We like Mo. We’d like to get Mo back. And then we have a young kid in Kylen (Granson), who we thought showed some things and he will continue to grow.”
And creating more depth on the defensive line: “On defense, we have to add to our defensive line. We need 8 (guys to rotate up front). You need a wave.”
At tight end, Jack Doyle is debating retirement. While the Colts want Alie-Cox back and still have high hopes for Kylen Granson, Ballard stressed the need for bolstering that group.
Along the defensive line, it sounds like more ‘quantity’ over ‘quality’ with Ballard firmly believing that the way to improve the pass rush is having depth in the 8-9 guy range.
4. Another Year Of Eric Fisher At Left Tackle
Let’s start with a popular question: Quenton Nelson is not moving to left tackle.
Ballard cut that question off aggressively, stating Nelson will remain at guard with the team poised to hand him a handsome contract extension at some point.
At left tackle, Ballard says the goal is still to find the long-term solution, but it sounds like the short-term option will be Eric Fisher again.
“I know (Fisher) had some struggles late with pass pro, but he fights his ass to get back off the Achilles,” Ballard said. “He ends up playing pretty decent football without an offseason, without being here. He was really good in the run game. We are asking him to do different things from a pass protection standpoint that he really didn’t get a chance to work on. I think Fish will tell you that there are moments in pass pro he should be better.
“Fish has a lot of good football left.”
Matt Pryor is a free agent and is another name that Ballard acknowledged as a possibility, with some position flex there, too.
5. Loves His Coaching Staff
When asked how much of an indictment it was on the coaching staff to miss the playoffs despite a league-high 7 Pro Bowlers, Ballard wasn’t going down the criticism path.
“We weren’t perfect, but I definitely have my hand in this,” Ballard said. “We have a good coaching staff. They do a good job. I think you can tell. (Matt Eberflus) is interviewing a couple of places. People are noticing the work that he’s doing. Seven Pro Bowlers, that’s great. Those are individual honors. At the end of the day, team. It comes down to winning, getting into the playoffs and trying to win a Super Bowl. We didn’t get that done.”
Again, Ballard offered various critiques throughout his hour-long presser, but nothing on the coaching staff front.
Expect little to no changes from the Colts with their staff.
Ballard also gave a further endorsement of Frank Reich.
“Good head coach, good football coach,” Ballard said of Reich. “He only had the one losing season, 7-9 (in 2019). That was my doing, not his. We’ve had a different quarterback every year and we still find a way every year to be really competitive and a good football team. I think he’s really good, really good as a head coach. I think anybody that questions that…this guy is good. He’s a leader. He has a plan. He’s flexible. He’s aggressive, but also knows when to dial it back. We are lucky to have him. I promise you. We are lucky to have Frank Reich.”
6. Free Agency Approach Changing?
Have the results (1 playoff win, no division titles) in 5 years at the helm of the Colts changed Chris Ballard’s thinking to roster building?
“That’s a good question,” Ballard said on Thursday. “I’ve thought a lot about that. I still believe you win the game up front. I think that’s proven. That is something I don’t think will ever change in my belief system. You have to be good on the O-line and D-line. You have to be. You have to get good quarterback play. Then the rest of your playmakers have to do their jobs. You can move forward with deep connection that you have. I was listening to somebody talk the other day and I thought it was really good. You can have really deep conviction in how you think things need to be built and run and also have the curiosity and flexibility to change along the way. I think we’ve done that. Because we are a very curious group. We ask questions. We want to grow. And I think we’ve had some flexibility moments. I know people feel we haven’t done anything. But we traded for (DeForest) Buckner, we’ve traded for Carson (Wentz). We’ve made moves. Whether they were right or wrong, we’ve made moves to make the team better being aggressive. So we will examine that. But one thing I will not change on is you win up front, O-line, D-line. I thought it was showing until the last two weeks. It’s hard to overcome when those two things aren’t there.”
The questions for Ballard and building center more so around the pass-happy positions (QB, WR, LT, DE, CB) and his use of free agency.
With the Colts not having a first-round pick in 2022, does that mean free agency takes on more of an importance this offseason?
“I think you all know my philosophy on free agency,” Ballard said. “I think it all depends on who the player is. Does he fit us? Just to go sign a free agent because you all are clamoring for one, I think we know some of the suggestions in the past. Those would have been really good. I think it’s a case-by-case basis of what we want to do. I don’t think signing big-name free agents always equates to winning. It’s signing the right free agents that equates to winning.”
7. Big Fan Of T.Y. Hilton
Chris Ballard has yet to speak with T.Y. Hilton regarding a possible retirement.
But Ballard continues to praise the type of leader Hilton has been in his 5 years together in Indianapolis.
“I love him,” Ballard said of Hilton . “He’s an unbelievable Colt. He’s an incredible person. He’s grown. He’s been unbelievable.
If Hilton wants to play another year, could we see Ballard wanting to bring back The Ghost on a much cheaper deal?
8. Understands The Magnitude
With his words, Chris Ballard is saying three straight years of finishing 10th, 7th and 8th, respectively, in the AFC is not meeting the standard.
That’s especially the case with this regime reaching the 5-year mark.
“It’s not acceptable and we won’t accept it,” Ballard said. “The expectations are higher, especially where we are with Frank (Reich) and I being together for 4 years and been building this. The expectations are higher, and we accept that.”
Ballard has also stressed the long-term vision necessary in roster building. But he spoke a good amount in the immediacy at various points on Thursday.
“That’s the great thing about this league, there’s always a solution,” the GM said. “There is. It’s our job to problem solve and find the solution. It might not be the perfect solution. It might not be perfect. It might not be the long-term solution, but there’s a solution every year. There’s a little timing and luck of sometimes getting the long-term solutions to certain positions but there’s a solution for that year coming up. But that’s what we have to work towards.’
9. Cornerback Need There
Along with tight end and defensive line, toss cornerback into the position group that Ballard labeled as upgrade worthy this offseason.
“At corner, you are always going to be looking to add,” Ballard said.
Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie are free agents this season. Both struggled with being available this year and took steps back from their play in 2021.
But Ballard was pleased with some of the younger guys progressing.
“I thought Rock (Ya-Sin ) took another step,” the GM said. “I thought Isaiah (Rodgers) grew up. Kenny Moore had a really good season. Probably didn’t play his best ball at the end but he played really good football.”
10. Kicker Battle Coming?
Michael Badgley is a free agent. Rodrigo Blankenship remains under contract.
It sounds like Chris Ballard is open to bring both of them back, with a possible competition in camp.
“Rod gets hurt pregame in Baltimore, he has a bad game because of it, it is what it is,” Ballard said. “He missed the extra point. He missed the game-winning field goal. He got his field goal blocked. We put him on IR. We bring (Michael) Badgley in. Badgley ended up having a pretty good season. I wouldn’t say elite, but it was good. We will work through it.
“We still think Rod has good upside and I like Badgley. It’s too early to say what exactly what we will do, but we like both of those guys.”
If the right kicker opportunity presents itself, would Ballard look into adding another (presuming bigger) leg to the mix?