Chris Ballard Holds True To His Philosophy In Free Agency

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Dec 23, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess (17) catches a pass in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Two days of free agency have gone by and Colts General Manager has signed one single free agent.   With over 103 million in spending money, he has watched as name after name is signed or traded from one team to another: names like Landon Collins, Trey Flowers, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and others that were linked to the Colts as good fits for free agency signings.  But instead of the Colts signing them, all of them went to other teams.  The only Person so far the Colts G.M. has signed so far is ex-Panthers receiver Devin Funchess. So what does this say about the now-third year man calling the shots?

Many have been calling him a penny-pincher, or much worse. Saying he NEEDS to spend some of that money, to show he wants to compete for a title. That hoarding money paints him in a bad light. Not willing to pay top players top money will lead them nowhere.  That there is no fire, or aspiration to win in him.

Here are the facts about Ballard so far:

  1. He has stated before tampering began, that last year he did indeed try to sign some big name free agents but Indianapolis was not a desirable place to come. No matter what amount of money is offered, some players won’t go to an organization that seems to be spiraling downward.
  2. He has also stated that during the regular season, he and his staff watch and grade every player in the NFL. Then they put a dollar amount to each one, and that dollar amount is their max cap on the person. They would not go over that pinned amount.
  3. When talent is thin in a certain free agency period, the ‘auction’ sometimes will get out of control. A frenzy starts and a lot of teams will get caught up in that frenzy, tending to spend a whole lot more on a player than they intended to do when negotiations started.  Ballard is not one of those people. To his credit, (or his detriment, depending on how you look at it) he sticks to his pinned ‘caps’ he set ‘s for each player earlier in the year.  Once other teams raise the negotiations above that line, he walks away.

Last year was eerily similar to how things are shaping out this year. One player was signed during the frenzied market; Denico Autry.  That player led the team in sacks that year (9) despite playing limited games due to injury.  Then, after the frenzy died down, he began sifting through the debris left over and found good players who fit his coaches schemes and locker room mentality.  Offering fair market deals to players whom he believed would indeed help his team begin climbing that mountain back to the playoffs.  That strategy worked, as the Indianapolis Colts went from a 4-12 team the previous year, to a 10-6 team, and a playoff berth.

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This year, so far (as I mentioned earlier) he has signed one key free agent, Devin Funchess.  In hopes of filling that desperately needed #2 W.R. spot opposite T.Y. Hilton and relieve some pressure from the star wide-out.  Expectations are, that he will again begin his real free agency work soon, as the initial chaos dies down, and the market begins to taper off.

Not that he has not tried.  It has been reported that he was indeed in the bargaining with multiple players until late in the negotiations.  Players like Landon Collins, and C. J. Mosely.  But due to the market, Chris Ballard was not willing to go above his listed prices for either player, Which had both players going long term contracts at 6 years-84 mil, and 5 years-85 mil respectively.  Both of those contracts were obviously above what he had listed for either player.

There are still players in free agency that fit the Colts needs and locker room mold, and Ballard knows who they are, or at least has an idea of whom he wants to go after.  So Indy is far from done signing players.  Unlike Grigson, in years prior, patience is a key to dealing with Ballard.  He may not get whom YOU want, but he will get what the team needs in the long run.  And by spending dramatically less on a player, he has more money to sign multiple players, some would consider a notch below, talent wise.  I don’t know about you, But I much prefer a team with a whole bunch of good/great players, than one with a couple of stars and a bunch of average to below average players.  It makes a team much more balanced overall, with less weak links in it’s armor.

Plus, Ballard has draft picks to re-sign soon.  Ryan Kelly can be extended this year, along with Haeg.  Next off season; Hooker, Wilson, Mack, and Walker are all eligible to be extended.  His four year window for spending his excess money ends in 2020, so he can use that excess on long term extensions of players Colts have drafted, that are on his team right now. “Draft you’re own, pay your own”, has been his mantra since he’s been the G.M. of the Colts.

Obviously, in order for that philosophy to work, you have to draft well, keeping the majority of your draft picks, and them being good players.  So far, in the past 2 drafts, he has shown just that.  And once you start filling holes on your team with good draft selections, you have less and less need for the free agency.  Nine picks in this years draft will allow him to select quite a few players to upgrade a few weak spots on the team’s roster.  If two become starters, and two more end up very good rotational pieces, (which is currently below his average the past two years, with three starters and 3 rotational average) he will have shored up obvious flaws, and set his Colts team to a standard, that can last for a generation.

Patience is a virtue, especially when building a true, long term contender.

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