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General Manager Update

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Colts GM Chris Ballard disappointed yet encouraged with 2023 as focus shifts to 2024 offseason

Ballard teed up the 2024 offseason with a look back at 2023, and discussed what he saw from head coach Shane Steichen and quarterback Anthony Richardson last season. 

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Chris Ballard won't have to answer arguably the two more important questions asked of a franchise this offseason.

He not only knows who his coach and quarterback are, but he also has conviction in Shane Steichen and Anthony Richardson. And while Ballard was disappointed the Colts missed the playoffs in 2023, he's also encouraged for what's ahead in 2024 in large part because those two spots are settled.

On Steichen: "There is never a lack of confidence or seed of doubt in his mind in what he's doing, and he sees the big picture. This is not just an offensive coordinator that became a head coach who calls plays. No, he sees it all. That's an impressive thing.

"Even after games, I'd go in and we're both emotional, but he's always got such great recall about what happened in all three phases and what we need to fix. He's a tremendous problem-solver, which I think is an important skillset for anybody in leadership positions to have. He's a tremendous problem-solver.

*"He's extremely demanding, not only of players, but also of staff – of all of us. He's going to press because he wants to win. He understands what needs to be done, what needs to happen to win. It'll be fun to watch his growth even more." *

On Richardson: "He's a good young man who has a lot to learn. But here's what's good about him. Very humble and he has empathy for other people. He cares deeply about being the best player he can be and he cares deeply about his teammates. And he will work. He's very gifted.

I'm going to tell you, one of the things that really surprised me from Anthony, because I was concerned about it, this guy's a passer. I think we all put him into — because here's this big, talented athlete. I mean, this guy's a legitimate passer. And I believe that. I think he's going to continue to get better and improve the more he plays. But Anthony can play from temp pocket and throw the ball accurately. He just needs to play."

That sort of there's-work-to-be-done-yet-encouraged confidence was the backdrop for Ballard's end-of-the-year press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Thursday. Around those two there are plenty of decisions to be made in the coming weeks and months that will shape what the 2024 Colts look like.

One decision is already set: Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will return, Ballard said, after the Colts finished fifth in the NFL in sacks (51), 16th in takeaways (24) and 28th in points allowed (24.4).

Ballard pointed to an intentionally young defense – especially in the secondary, where cornerback Kenny Moore II and safety Julian Blackmon were the only starters to play at least three seasons in the NFL – as part of the explanation of he and the Colts' trust in Bradley, who will enter his third year as the team's defensive coordinator.

"We went young in the secondary and look, there were some rough moments at times in the secondary and I don't completely put that on (the coaches)," Ballard said. "I put that more on me, but how do you ever develop any continuity, especially with your own guys if you don't just play them? So I decided to go young. We took our lumps, took our lumps at times but I think it's going to pay off down the line for them.

"I think we had five or six new starters on defense. We did do some good things now. It's not like it's all bad. The points do need to come down. We'll continue to have long discussions about where we're going and how we'll get that done. But saying that, we had new starters on defense. We did do some good things too. We got after the passer pretty good. I think it's got to be a little better but 51 sacks is pretty good. Took the ball away, we need to be a little better there in that area and we have to take away the explosives. But I would expect us to take another jump here this year on defense."

As the Colts begin to re-shape their roster in the coming months, they'll have plenty of decisions to make on internal free agents – including Moore, Blackmon, wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., defensive tackle Grover Stewart and quarterback Gardner Minshew II, among others. But as the Colts evaluate their ability to keep any and all of those free agents, and also bring in outside free agents, they'll do so under different circumstances than they've had in recent years.

"We got more flexibility right now than we've had the last few years," Ballard said. "A little of that is we're not paying a quarterback big money anymore. We're going to have some more flexibility. And we'll always be prudent but we'll be as aggressive as we need to be in free agency with players we think can help us."

As for Pittman – who became the fourth player in franchise history with a 100 reception/1,000-yard season – Ballard pointed to the wide receiver's toughness, competitiveness and drive to win as reasons why he wants him back on the team.

"We're going to work to get him back," Ballard said. "We'll work through that. I know we're going to have a few free agents you're all going to want to talk about and I'm probably going to give you the same answer. I would like to have them all back, but it doesn't work that way. It's just the nature of what we do. Pitt is a good football player for us and hopefully he still remains a Colt."

However the 2024 offseason looks, the ultimate goal is to build the Colts' first division-winning team since 2014. But with Steichen, Richardson and several other pieces in place on both sides of the ball, Ballard believes that's an achievement well within reach.

"We should legitimately be competing for the division and playoffs," Ballard said. "That's our expectation. That's really our expectation every year, but I think that is really possible here going forward."

View the Top 100 Indianapolis Colts photos from 2023 as we countdown to the new year!

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