After a relatively quiet free agency period despite having one of the league's highest value in salary cap space, Indianapolis Colts' general manager Chris Ballard reiterated his roster-building philosophy, leaning heavily towards building through the year NFL Draft and retaining their own guys through extensions, rather than spending big on free agents.
Ballard, appearing on The Athletic's "The Athletic Football Show" podcast with host Robert Mays July 2, reiterated his belief in roster building, saying he'd rather not pay "B players A-plus player money" in free agency and would rather building through the draft.
“We’ve got good players out of free agency, and we’ve been successful,” Ballard said on the podcast. “We’re just not the biggest fans of right out the gate free agency where you’re paying B players A-plus money, which is gonna affect down the line. . . . There’s a cost to that.”
Historically, the Colts just don't wade into free agency and throw around money under Ballard, which was a significant change from the Ryan Grigson era, which played a major part in the Colts' downturn from 2012-17 in which the Colts handed out more than $207 million combined in free agency deals to names such as Tom Zbikowski, Samson Satele, LaRon Landry, Gosder Cherilus, Ricky Jean Francois, Donald Thomas, Arthur Jones, Andre Johnson, Kendall Langford, Trent Cole, and Patrick Robinson.
Now, with Ballard at the helm, he prefers to build through the draft and retain those draft picks on second contracts, should they develop. The key to that is evaluating those players at a high level and hitting on those picks. To date, Ballard has done just that.
With the hit rate on draft picks, Ballard has had to refrain from spending future money on outside guys, which has allowed him to have a boatload of space in recent years to lock up key guys.
While the Colts will have the most cap space in the NFL ahead of the 2022 season, don't expect Ballard to dive headfirst into free agency. He'll use a lot of that $83 million in space to lock up guys like All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle Braden Smith and do-everything running back Nyheim Hines, to name a few.
“Our players know we want to keep them,” Ballard said on the podcast. “We’ve done a pretty good job so far of keeping the players we wanted to keep in-house. We feel like we have a really good . . . I know culture gets thrown around, but we do. I think we have a really good culture. It’s one of accountability. One where they care about each other, and one where they want to win and do special things.”
To date, Ballard's philosophy has worked, helping the Colts emerge from a horrible stretch under Grigson, the shocking loss of Andrew Luck to retirement and the recent string of QB carousel to remain competitive year after year.
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