Chris Ballard Explains His 2019 Free Agency Approach
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INDIANAPOLIS – Like he did last year, Chris Ballard joined 1070 The Fan in the month of March to recap the early part of free agency.
On Thursday morning, hopping on the Jeff and Big Joe show, Ballard answered questions on his approach to free agency, the latest on Dontrelle Inman and the development of Darius Leonard.
For those first curious about the bracket of Ballard (who went to Wisconsin), he’s got Michigan State, Gonzaga, Virginia and Houston in his Final Four, with Virginia winning it all.
In Colts news, here is a transcript of Ballard talking about his team on Thursday morning:
On if he thought the Colts would be more active in free agency: “We thought there were some good players on the market and we dabbled in to see if we could get something done. We just couldn’t get a price point where we felt comfortable with what the player was going to give us. We started free agency right when the season ended, when we signed (Adam Vinatieri) and (Mark Glowinski) and then being able to get (Margus Hunt, Pierre Desir and Clayton Geathers) done. To us, when it’s your player and he’s played for you and you know exactly what he is, we feel more comfortable paying our own players. Is that to say we don’t want to sign a player in free agency? No. But it’s got to be at a price point that we think his beneficial to both parties.”
On a one-year contract for Clayton Geathers: “He fought through some things last year. When you do a one-year deal, it gives the player another year to show that he’s completely healthy and can play throughout the season. I’ve let it be known how much of a fan I am of Clayton Geathers. We think it’s a good deal for both sides. I’m really happy to have him back and I think he’ll have a big impact for us this year.”
On the Colts taking the next step: “We were a very young football team last year and they are going to get better. I think people need to realize that a lot of these guys are not at their ceilings yet. Just take the offensive line, do you think Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith are as good as they are going to be after a year of bullets, as a rookie? No different with any of our young players. We think our young players will continue to improve. Everyone has a different way of team building. And I don’t know if you can say anyway is right or wrong. This is what we believe in and this is the path that we are going to go. You can read this as you want to read it, a true difference maker in the free agent market, I’m good paying for, but they have to be a true difference maker, unquestionably. Not the media saying he’s a true difference maker, the tape saying he’s a true difference maker.”
On bringing Jay Ajayi in for a visit on Wednesday: “From now, and even during the season, we bring players in and we kick the tires to see where they are at. If we think it’s going to be a fit, at every position, I wouldn’t single out the running back position because we like Marlon Mack, and we like Nyheim Hines and we like (Jordan) Wilkins and we like (Jonathan) Williams. We’ve got a good young stable of running backs here but I think when there’s a good player on the market, you need to do your due diligence.”
On the $10 million deal for Devin Funchess and what it’s like to negotiate with an agent: “It’s called the first day of free agency (laughs). When I was in Kansas City, we really liked Devin. I thought his third year in the league, he really started making progress, to a point where you thought this guy is coming on. He’s a big man. He’s a really good athlete. I almost laughed, everyone says he is slow, I disagree with that assessment. He can bend. He’s been inconsistent catching the football. He knows that. And there’s things he needs to work on. But he’s 24 years old. He’s young. He’s got upside. We like the kid. We like the work ethic. We did a lot of research on him and we think we can help him get to where he wants to go and he can help us get to where we want to go.”
On the latest with free agent receiver Dontrelle Inman: “Well, there’s a difference in age between Dontrelle (30 years old) and Funchess (24 years old). And Devin is 6-4 ½ and 225. We are still working through it with Dontrelle. We like Dontrelle a lot. And he had a great year last year, but we are still working through some details on that.”
On what he learned about his team in 2018: “I almost go back to our experience in Kansas City when we went through the 1-5 season. When you start off that bad, you have to extend so much energy to just get back into it. We beat Houston in a similar way (as the Colts did this year) in the first round of the playoffs and then went to New England. And I just think we kind of ran out of gas. No disrespect to them. And they beat us. And no disrespect to Kansas City. They were the better football team. But to go on the road and win in the playoffs, you’ve got to be full ticking in everything you are doing. You are talking about a young football team who went on the road and won in Houston. That’s not easy to do. Everybody glosses over that like that was just a minor accomplishment. That was a big accomplishment. At the end of the day, we just got beat in Kansas City. It was a great experience for us. Not what we wanted to have happened but we will learn from it and we will continue to get better and grow.”
On how Andrew Luck is doing this offseason: “I’m not going to lie to you all. I have not talked to Andrew in a month and a half. That’s a complete flip from my first two years on the job. He’s getting to be a regular guy again, which is good.”
On who the Colts are building a team to beat: “No. 1, we are not beating a team to match up with other people. We are building a team to match up with us. Teams that play together, I just think if you get into, ‘Well, they’ve got this player. We have to match it.’ There’s something to that, yes. But, at the end of the day, I’ve said it over and over again, we are going to continue to build our fronts, we are going to continue to build our fronts. We are going to get really good quarterback play and then we will fill in the rest as we get going. This is a team that plays together, learned how to not lose football games, which I think is a big deal in this league. I thought when we started out 1-5, we were losing more games by our own miscues then actually getting physically beat. Even the New England game, when we went into it shorthanded, I just didn’t feel like we were completely outmatched, where we didn’t have a chance. We will just continue to build this team the way we believe.”
On where he wants to improve the pass rush, edge vs. group: “Unquestionably, it’s as a group. Denico Autry had 9 sacks last year and missed time. I think anytime you can get pressure up the middle, that disrupts the quarterback as much as anything and it really helps your ends because it constricts the pocket. We want to be able to rush four, but saying that, I was really pleased with how Matt (Eberflus) and the defensive staff created ways to get pressure bringing 5 and doing some different things. You got 7 sacks out of (Darius) Leonard. You got 5.5 out of (Jabaal) Sheard. We spread it around a bunch of different guys and that’s not always a bad thing either. To me, at the end of the day, you want to do it with four, but until you get that four right and get a dominant right end and a couple really dominant players on the front, you do it as a group.”
On where Darius Leonard needs to grow: “Darius is as driven unlike many I’ve ever been around. The one thing about him is when he tells you he wants to be the best, he absolutely wants to be the best so he’s always looking for an edge he can get. There’s some things pass coverage that I think coming from a lower level (college wise) missing the OTA practices last year, some fundamental things he can do better. I think he can get stronger and those are all things he will work on this offseason in OTAs and into the season.”
On seeing the viral videos from Jihad Ward and Quenton Nelson: “The Jihad Ward one I saw right away. He’s such a great kid. Jihad has this guilt that he did something wrong. That was funny. No, I didn’t watch the Quenton video. I avoided that.”