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INDIANAPOLISChris Ballard is now embarking on his 7th offseason as the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.

One of the first big steps in that process came on Tuesday as Ballard held his season-ending press conference.

As we do annually, here are the highlights from Ballard’s presser, which lasted about 45 minutes:

Opening statement: “I failed. I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses. Failed a lot of people. Highly disappointed about where we’re at, how the season went. I never take lightly what’s at stake here. It’s not the wins and losses. People’s lives are on the line. Player’s families, coaches’ families, front office, people in this building. And I don’t ever take that lightly. And I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed where we’re at and ultimately it falls on my shoulders. I won’t walk away from that; I won’t run from it. Saying that, we’ll grow from it and I’ll grow from it and I’ll get better because of it. Unfortunately, our greatest moments of growth and greatest times of growth happen in the darkness and you’ve just got to keep your eyes open and see the light. We had some rough moments this season. Thinking about where we’re at, how we got where we’re at, the mistakes I have made and there’s only one way. You’ve got to go through it. You can’t avoid it. You can’t go over it, can’t go under it. You’ve got to go through it. That’s the only way you’re going to grow. I believe in our people. I believe in our process. There’s really smart, good  people in this building and I believe going forward we’ll prove that. I know there’s doubt. There should be. Absolutely there should be. The criticism, it’s warranted. Criticism regarding my job and what I’ve done, it’s warranted. But I’ve not lost any confidence in what we can build here. We live in a world where failure’s not allowed. It’s not allowed. When you fail in this world, you get cancelled and everybody wants your head. And rightfully so in some cases. But if you’re able to go through it and you grow from it, you can reach your greatest heights. And I think we will. All the things written and said, most of is warranted. We didn’t perform well enough. And it falls on me.”

On the mistakes: “Looking back on it, when you’re changing quarterbacks every year, it’s tough. It’s tough on everybody. It’s tough on the team. Not getting that position settled, has a little something to do with it. And that’s no indictment on any of the quarterbacks we have. Looking back early in the season, we had some changes to the offensive line and that’s where our struggles occurred early and we just never really recovered from them. And it took us a while to get some continuity. I probably underestimated that. We had been so good up front for the last few years. I thought with the three really good players we had coming back in Braden (Smith), Ryan Kelly and Quenton (Nelson), that we would absorb those other positions and they would come up to speed right away and it just didn’t occur that way. That’s a mistake. Now I will say midseason I did think the line played better. I thought they played better down the stretch. I know they’ve taken a lot of criticism, but down the stretch that wasn’t the reason we were losing. It is a fickle game and I know people say it all the time. But more games are lost than won. We lost them. You cannot be minus-13 in turnover ratio and win. You can’t do it. You can’t be 32nd in the league in the red zone and win. And I think on defense we either finished 30th or 31st in the red zone. Those are key areas of the game that you have to perform to be able to win. There’s a way to win every game. I think you can even look at the playoffs and teams that rebounded from a year ago that everybody said stunk and now they’re in the playoffs. Those teams that got in, they didn’t lose the games. We lost the game. You can’t turn the ball over. You have to execute in the red zone when you get those opportunities, and we didn’t.

On how the system was so broken getting to this point: “It’s something we’re digging through to figure out. It’s something we’re digging through. It’s a fair question…Ultimately  our plan from a roster standpoint wasn’t good enough. That’s one. Then, I think all the change, we didn’t do a very good job of. We didn’t manage expectations very well, at all. At all. We’ve been so process oriented. That’s who I am. It’s who Frank (Reich) was. We want to be process oriented. With a good process, you’re going to lead to a good result. Every time we keep going and getting these vet quarterbacks, this falls on me. ‘Go get a vet quarterback, well, here’s the expectation, we’re going to the Super Bowl. They got a good roster, they’re going to the Super Bowl.’ Well, there was holes in that. Our job is to fix those holes.”

On if Ballard feels his voice has lessened at all within the organization: “Let me say this about Mr. Irsay. I love working for him. He’s a good man, and a good owner, and he has a lot of experience in this league, and we talk about everything. We don’t always agree. If we’re agreeing all the time, I’m not doing my job. I think you all have been around me long enough to know it just comes out. Sometimes, even when I don’t want it to, it just comes out. I’m going to be honest and tell you what I think, and I’m very honest with him about what I think, and he’s very honest and direct with me, and at the end of the day, there’s some decisions that I’ll make, and he’ll say ‘Good, Chris, I don’t completely agree with that, but let’s move forward,’ and there’s some decisions he’ll make that I’ll say ‘Look, I don’t completely agree with that, but I’ll move forward.’ When we make one, we make it together and we move forward. Mr. Irsay lets me do my job.”

-On if Ballard’s desire to be here as wavered at all: “(Long pause) No. We don’t have a transfer portal. And I don’t want it. I’ve never backed out of anything in my life. I won’t back out of this. We will get it right. People are scared to struggle. I’m not going to sit here and say I like it, but I’m not afraid of it. I’m not afraid of the struggle. I’m not afraid of the hardness of what we do. In fact, I kind of get off to it. To answer your question, no. No other place I want to be.” 

-On if some of Jim Irsay’s decisions have hurt the franchise: “No. We’ve had some long talks, had a long talk Sunday. I don’t. He’s been doing this a long time, and he’s got a good feel for this, and every decision that has been made, we’ve talked through. I don’t think it hurt us. No. Ultimately, it falls on my shoulders.”

On if Ballard is surprised he’s still here: “I don’t ever worry about that. I come to work, I give you everything I’ve got, I don’t short-change anything, and I don’t worry about getting let go and fired. I do the best I can, and even the best-laid plans sometimes, even the best thought-out plans, they don’t work sometimes. And they don’t. It didn’t work last year. I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses for that. I’m not going to make excuses for having a job. I’ve got to do my job better.”

On if Ballard’s roster building philosophy needs to change: “I’ve got to grow. I’m very stubborn and dogmatic sometimes. I do believe we have to be great upfront, that’s in my blood. That’ll be on my grave, and we weren’t good enough this year. We showed signs, and I think there’s potential going forward, but at the end of the day, that’s on me. In terms of how we build the rest of the roster, that’s an area we’ll examine hard and move forward and grow.”

On evaluating Jeff Saturday as a head coaching candidate: “He is going to be a candidate. And I told Mr. Irsay this, when he made the decision and we talked through Jeff, I voiced my concerns, which were: ‘Look, this is unprecedented, and we’re putting him into a really tough situation here, taking a team over midseason. It’s going to be tough, and I wanted to make sure he understood that, and I had the same talk with Jeff.’ Here’s what I know about Jeff: He is smart, he is a good teammate, and he is a leader. Those things are real. Now…you can’t do wholesale changes when you come in Week 8. That stuff starts in April. Your vision and everything you want to do, that’s built over time and over the years. It’ll be interesting to hear. He’ll go through the process like everybody else. It’ll be interesting to hear his vision, how he wants to build it. He’ll go through the whole process.”

-On how much the 1-7 record of Saturday will matter in the evaluation period: “That’s a tough spot, man. I’m not judging him by that. What I will judge, the things I did like were he stayed positive, he kept working, held the team accountable, wasn’t afraid to hold players accountable and when he saw mistakes, to call them out. Sure he’s got things he’s got to grow, we all do. I’m not going to judge him off that.”

-On where Saturday improved the Colts: “Sometimes you can do things right and you don’t see any, from the outside world, you don’t see those improvements. Just those daily interactions with the team, learning how to being a head coach is hard. Not only from managing a football team and coaching a football team, managing a coaching staff, 69 players, schedule, media, all the stuff you’ve got to deal with. Each week I thought he got better. I know the results didn’t show that, but I do think he improved.”

-On if Ballard wanted to promote a member of the coaching staff for the interim role instead of hiring Jeff Saturday: “It never really got to that point. The discussion was Jeff and when we decided to go that way, that’s where we were going.”

-On if Jim Harbaugh will be a coaching candidate and who will make the final HC call: “I won’t get into who the candidates are. I know there’s names out there, but we’re not going to talk about that. I’ll lead the search. Ultimately, Mr. Irsay makes the final call. And I don’t care what organization, there’s 32 teams, 32 owners. They own the team. We give them our thoughts, and Mr. Irsay’s a good listener. Ultimately, he’ll make the final call, but he’ll lean heavily on our work and what we do to get the candidates in place.”

-On what he’ll be looking for in the head coach: “I’m going to tell you what I’m saying what I learned (from the 2018 search). One, don’t start with an end in mind. OK? That’s big. A lot of times what happens is you get a vision of what you want before you I mean, like you’ve made your mind up and then you might ignore somebody that’s really freaking good right in front of your face. So we’ve got a very detailed process put together on the traits and attributes we’re looking for in the head coach, don’t care what side of the ball. And then, to be patient and take your time. And make sure we have a thorough interview with everybody. Consistent, thorough. I don’t care if it takes to mid-February to hire the head coach. It’s about getting it right.” 

-On if there have been missed opportunities to address the QB position more permanently: “We postmortem everything. And I’ve examined, and I’ve looked at that. Listen, you got a good team. We thought we had a good football team. And you know, hindsight is 2020, it’s easy to look back and criticize what you’ve done in the past. And I think you know me, like nobody’s harder (on myself). Like you all write stuff, like I’ve fired myself 50 times this year. I sit in that press box and agonize. Looking back, we kept thinking, ‘We’ll add the vet, we’ll add the vet quarterback that would give us a chance to really get over the hump.’ Looking at missed opportunities, we thought with Carson (Wentz) we were getting a young enough player that we could have a guy that could be here for the long term, for at least a 5-6-7 year run. We weren’t right on that decision. And then given the assets at the time, probably cost us from being able to get one in ‘21, which I don’t really know, looking back, I don’t really know if we’d have had an opportunity in the draft. And then not having a first round pick this last year restricted that. So I’ve thought a lot about that. And what direction we should go. Look at the end of the day we made the decision we did. We had a process to make them and we’re at where we’re at.”

-On if he would be surprised as we would be if the Colts don’t pick a QB in first round: “No, I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, it’s the 4th pick of the draft. Excuse my language, but we earned that. I don’t like earning it, but we did. I’ve said this before, and I think history proves me right: I can take one. We can take one as an organization, and you all are going to celebrate it and say we have got the Savior for the Colts. And then if he doesn’t play well, why’d you take that guy? You got to be right. We got to be right. We understand the magnitude you got. We understand the magnitude of where we’re at in the draft. And we understand the importance of the position. To get one that actually you can win with and to be right is the most important thing, not if we take one or not. It’s being right.”

-On the hesitancy to trade up in the draft for a quarterback, compared to the likes of Kansas City and Buffalo: “Well at one point we had Andrew Luck. And then in ’19, get done with that and decide to go with Philip Rivers at the time. That was an area, when we had the 13th pick and ended up trading it for (DeForest) Buckner that we did have serious talks about it at the time. At that point, we said we have a bird in the hand here. We are getting a 3-technique that we think is a really special player and fits our character profile of what we want. In ’21, then we signed Carson (Wentz) . So the opportunity to do it was in 2020 but we made the decision with Buckner and I don’t regret that decision.”

On if he would trade up to No. 1 for a quarterback: “Yes. If we thought there’s a player that that we’re driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better, that’s what we would do.”

-On Matt Ryan returning 2023: “Matt Ryan is as professional a guy/player that I’ve ever been around. And I still think he’s got something left in his body to play. Smart, knows how to play the game…Yeah, we will work through that. I had a good talk with Matt yesterday. We will work through that (2023 plan for Ryan). It’s about our head coach (right now). Out staff is evaluating the roster. Right now, the priority of the organization is to get the right head football coach.”

-On Jonathan Taylor’s injured ankle needing surgery: “I think over the next two weeks we will know more. It was a pretty good high ankle sprain. We will find out more in the next couple of weeks. I’m not going to sit here and say yes or no, but it looks positive (he won’t need surgery).”

-On if it’s the right move to pay Taylor (Taylor has one year left on his rookie contract): “When they’re great players it is. When they’re a special playmaker it is. I’m not going to get into what we’re going to do contract wise with him, but when you’re a special player and a special playmaker, yeah.”

 -On if Michael Pittman is a No. 1 wide receiver: “I don’t know. We’ve all had this talk before. What’s a 1? What’s a real 1? A guy that every time he touches the ball, you’re scared to death that he’s going to go score? There are very few of those. Is he a really good freaking player? Damn right he is, and he’s passionate and he’s tough and he competes his ass off and he wears it and I love that about him. I love that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. I love that he cares deeply about winning. (Michael) Pittman’s a really good football player and we’re lucky to have him on our team.”

 -On if he thinks Bernhard Raimann can be the left tackle of the future: “Yes. Yes, I do. Very encouraged by it. Early it was rough, as it is for most rookie left tackles. We want them to be Jonathan Ogden the second they walk in the league. Or Anthony Castonzo. We forget Anthony had his struggles early. Most left tackles do have their struggles early. But to (Raimann’s) credit and I’ll never forget leaving New England, and Bernhard is passionate and cares and wants to do the right thing and has tears walking to the bus and I said, ‘You are going to have days like this in this league but your mental toughness and your ability to reset is important and for you to make it you have to do that.’ And to the kids credit, he battled his ass off. He got better each week. Sure, he has some things he has to work on. He’s going to get a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger. But we thought he performed at a winning level the last 7, 8 weeks of the season. I know there were a couple of plays and some mistakes, they all do. Look across the league. Players make mistakes.”

On if he’s played with the players effort throughout the season: “We’ve got a good group. Like, they work. I didn’t ever feel like they weren’t competing. Our competitive confidence, somewhere along the way, we lost. Like when it got hard in the game, we would melt down. I wish I could have a complete answer for you. But I don’t. That’s something we have to work through as we go through this offseason. But it’s, ultimately, it’s where we’re at. Doesn’t mean that’s where we’re going to stay. That’s where we’re at right now. Like I’m not sitting up here with rose-colored glasses. We’re not going to put our heads in the sand and act like everything’s okay. It’s not. And I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, we don’t need to make changes.’ No, there’s going to be changes on the roster. When you’re at this level, there’s got to be change. Everybody knows that.”

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