INDIANAPOLIS — "The Colts are a much better football team today."
Those words from Indianapolis Colts team Owner Jim Irsay officially kicked off the Chris Ballard Era in Indy.
Irsay and the Colts on Jan. 30 formally announced that Ballard — a former scout and personnel executive with the Chicago Bears and, most recently, with the Kansas City Chiefs — had been hired as the team's newest general manager, replacing Ryan Grigson, who had served in the spot since 2012 but was not retained following the 2016 season.
But Irsay wasn't the only one singing Ballard's praises upon his hiring by the team. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid considers Ballard "a relentless worker with a big personality … somebody that will bring energy within that organization and be a big contributor that way." Former NFL general manager and current NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly said "one of (Ballard's) strengths is understanding coaches and working with them." And even members of the media were sold; Terez A. Paylor, who covers the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, tweeted, "For 4 years I haven't come across anyone who didn't like (Ballard) as a man/respect his scouting eye."
The comments are undoubtedly nice to hear for Ballard, but he knew lots of work needed to be done to reconstruct the Colts' roster and put his stamp on the on-field product before it hit the field for training camp in late July.
Immediately, Ballard focused on the defense. In free agency, he allowed the team to get much younger across the board, but seemingly didn't substitute in the way of overall talent or production. In fact, the Colts have had their most active free agency period ever this offseason under Ballard; as such, the team seems poised to improve with younger veterans up front, particularly at outside linebacker and along the defensive line.
Then came April's NFL Draft, in which Ballard, again, kept the focus on the defense. Six of the Colts' eight picks came on that side of the ball, including first-round pick Malik Hooker, who is considered one of the more exciting safety prospects to come along in years, as well as Quincy Wilson, who could be starting opposite Vontae Davis as the Colts' No. 2 cornerback come Week 1.
With OTAs about to wrap up, Ballard has certainly already made his mark on the Indianapolis roster. Now the hope is that he can mesh well with head coach Chuck Pagano to ensure the moves that look promising on paper translate into production on the field.
With that in mind, Ballard's addition to the Colts continues to receive rave reviews. ESPN Insider Field Yates, for example, recently wrote a piece in which he spoke with six NFL coaches and personnel officials across the league, and asked them to pick their best moves — "hiring, signing, trade or draft pick" — this offseason.
Perhaps not surprisingly, "Indianapolis' hiring of general manager Chris Ballard" made the list. Here's what Yates wrote:
Ballard, who was hired after four seasons in the Chiefs' front office, replaced Ryan Grigson and has immediately reshaped the Indianapolis Colts' defense.
"[I] just think he's going to do a really good job there," a front-office executive said. "[He] has already done a nice job adding some quality players to that defense through both free agency and the draft. The Colts will be a really tough team to beat here in two or three years if he builds that team like I think he will (heavy on defense with lots of pass-rushers and corners like Kansas City)."
Among Ballard's notable moves: the free-agent additions of outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and the recent additions of safety Malik Hooker (first round) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (second round) in the draft.
"That team will always be good as long as [quarterback Andrew] Luck is there, but just imagine what they could do with a legit defense," the exec said. "Could be a legitimate contender within a couple years."
Those who have worked with Ballard speak exceedingly highly of both his character and his scouting acumen. Indianapolis hit a home run with this hire.
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