INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Friday joined 1075 The Fan's "The Dan Dakich Show," where he discussed the team's approach at the quarterback position, recent rumors about Andrew Luck, whether Quenton Nelson is an option at left tackle, pending free agents this offseason and much more.
Here is most of that conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety above:
On rumors that the Colts have been in contact with the Philadelphia Eagles about quarterback Carson Wentz:
Ballard: "So, this is what I'm going to tell you: we are exploring lots of options. … We're exploring all possibilities. I'll tell you this, though: there's no trade going down right now. Nothing. No trade. Not today. Not for the Colts."
On rumors that Andrew Luck met with Colts owner Jim Irsay this week:
Ballard: "There was no meeting. … No, no meeting. Andrew's retired. He's been retired. He's going to still be retired…"
On if the Colts still reach out to Luck:
Ballard: "We talk. I mean, I talk to Andrew. I mean, but I don't ever ask, like, 'Andrew, could you please come back?' I mean, I figure if Andrew wanted to play, he would just say, 'Hey, you know what Chris? I think I want to play football again.' So I don't ever ask."
On Ballard's level of concern about the quarterback position for the Colts:
Ballard: "So, here's what I'll tell you: we know how important the position is. And this league is driven by the position — it is. But saying that, you need a team around that position. I've always said this: organizations win, teams win, coaches win — it's not just the quarterback. Is the quarterback important? Absolutely it is, and we'll look at every avenue to make sure we have a guy that is functional and can produce at a winning level for us. And I have a lot of faith in Frank (Reich) and the staff to make that work. I mean, if you think back to last year at this time, it was panic mode. And even when we signed Philip — even when we signed Philip (Rivers) — I mean, you didn't hear this giant roar like, 'Yes, no doubt, this is going to work.' And (he) ended up playing good football for us. I have a lot of faith in Frank (that) whoever we end up getting, it'll work."
On if having a 'functional' quarterback is going to be good enough in the competitive AFC, and if he would like to have a dynamic player at the position:
Ballard: "You would like to have dynamic, absolutely. I'd like to have a dynamic star. But they don't just fall off trees."
On if Ballard would consider trading up in the draft to get a dynamic quarterback:
Ballard: "So, that's kind of what I talked about at the end of the year: everybody is like, 'You've got to do whatever it takes.' And they're right. But you've got to be right. You can't move up and take the wrong guy, 'cause we've seen history's proven that — if you just look at the last 10 years of drafts and the quarterbacks, and the miss rate's a lot higher than it is for the hit rate. So you've got to be right. And just to move up to take one, to make everybody happy in the moment, to me — look, you've got to have enough conviction and belief in what you're doing that even though you're getting criticized in the moment, it'll work out over time. There's a fine line between being aggressive and desperate. We are not going to operate in a desperate world. That's what the world does, that's what Twitter does, that's what people do; they operate in a desperation world. No, we're not going to operate in that world. We'll be aggressive when we need to be aggressive."
On why Ballard believes the Colts aren't desperate, despite not having a clear-cut starter at quarterback heading into the offseason:
Ballard: "Well, I would put it this way: if everybody thinks we're just gonna all of a sudden, "plop," and a Pat Mahomes or a Lamar Jackson is just gonna land in our lap, that's not (realistic). Those guys are rare guys. And when you get the opportunity to identify a guy like that, and then move up to get him, great. But saying that, you can win football games with good quarterback play — it might not be special quarterback play, but you can win with good quarterback play. And we think we can."
On if Ballard ever looks back at the 2018 NFL Draft and reconsider not taking a quarterback with a top-10 pick:
Ballard: "No, because we had Andrew (Luck). We had Andrew. …"
On if there was ever any sense Luck was going to retire when he did:
Ballard: "No. … I believed in Andrew. I mean, I did. I believed he was going to come back healthy, and I believed he was going to have a long career."
On if Ballard anticipates free-agent-to-be T.Y. Hilton being back with the Colts in 2021:
Ballard: "We'll work through it, but we like T.Y. We think he can still play, we think he can still play a significant role. Let me tell you what's been really cool about T.Y. (was) when I first came in here, to see his growth and maturity has been really cool. …"
As a person or a player?
Ballard: "Both. I mean, when you're used to catching 1,400 yards worth of balls, to all a sudden go to 6-7-800, that's a little bit of a hit to the ego. And he never once b**ed, complained. No. 'Here's my role, this is what I'm gonna do. How do I help the team win?' So we like T.Y. A lot of it will depend on the market, 'cause we've got a lot of work to do. We have some work to do. But would we like him back? Yes. We'll see if it works out."
On if the Colts currently have a "Super Bowl roster" considering they have no starting quarterback in place, the offseason retirement of starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo and with top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and top outside cornerback Xavier Rhodes set to become free agents:
Ballard: "Well, we have work to do still. We have a lot of good players. We have a lot of good, young players on this team, under the age of 26, which is exciting. I mean, when you just go down the list … so we've got a good core back. But we still have work to do. I mean, the Castonzo retirement, Philip Rivers retiring …"
On if Ballard thought Rivers would play two years with the Colts:
Ballard: "I did. I did. Good for him, though. I was proud of Philip. I mean, he played his butt off for us this year. And even after a slow start early in the season, and really figuring out how we needed to play to win the game. I mean, I think that's one of the things lost (here); there's a way to win every game — how do you do it? And Philip finally figured out, 'I don't need to make a hero play every game for us to win. I can just do what's expected, and we're good enough on defense and special teams, and let everybody else play.' Do I think we have a lot of talent? Yes. Do I think we're a Super Bowl team right now? No; there's too many questions in play here. But we've got time. I mean, we have free agency, we have the draft. We don't play until September, what, ninth or 10th? I mean, there's a lot of time between now and then. … This is always good, because everybody judges everything you freakin' do between now and the start of the season. I don't judge it until we're done. Judge us then. I know you've got to have crap to talk about on this show, but…"
On why you can't judge draft picks until they actually play:
Ballard: "You don't know. They've got to play. They've got to play. And that's when you know. And, look: you're going to do some really good things, and you're going to do some boneheaded things. Every team does. But at the end of the day, let's get through the season and let's evaluate what we did, how we did, what we need to fix, and then we move forward. The rest of the stuff that we talk about between now and the season? Whatever. You can talk about it all day, but at the end of the day it doesn't influence our thinking."
On not taking into account immediate draft pick/class "grades:"
Ballard: "You know when I knew we did good? When we get a C, D — like, I'm thinking, 'Alright. I know we've probably hit here.' Because most of the time they don't (know); they're making (an) educated guess on who they talk to, and not watching the tape."
On how Ballard evaluated the coaching decisions in the Colts' loss to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round matchup:
Ballard: "Look: it's no different than when we make a mistake in the draft. It's not perfect, but I'll tell you this … so, I know what you're getting at. … So, it's like with analytics, alright? So I know the big question on the third and the fourth down, to go for it, and I think if you ask Frank would he re-play the third-down call … I don't think he has any regrets on the fourth-down call — I know he doesn't. The third-down call, you know what, we took a shot, we thought we'd get a little different look, it just didn't work. But we're going to play the odds. I mean, that's what we're going to do. We're going to continue to do it; we're going to continue to be aggressive in certain games, when you're playing a Kansas City, when you're playing an offensive team that's hot and you know you need to score — you know you need to score … I don't believe in momentum. I just don't believe in it. I mean, if the odds were in our favor, and if we stop 'em, if we don't let 'em go 95 yards for a touchdown, you know, are we looking at it differently? So at the end of the day we didn't execute. We didn't execute on offense, we didn't execute on defense, and that two-minute span that was so important for us."
On how often odds and analytics override gut and feel:
Ballard: "I think it depends on the game. I think it depends on the game — who you're playing, how good the opponent is…"
On if Reich always goes for it when the odds say it should be a "hard go:"
Ballard: "No. No. No. He plays it by who we're playing. I mean, I think I brought this up earlier when I was talking to our media after the season: like, nobody griped when we played Tennessee and we went 5-of-6 on fourth down and really turned the game. … And the best was we missed a 4th and 1, and we were down 17-13, and we come out in the first (drive) of the (second) half, we go 70-something yards, get down to the 1, we don't get it, alright? So if you believe in freakin' momentum, you should say there's no freakin' way the Colts are winning this game. But we stop them, they shank a punt, we score, alright? Then they get the ball back, and then we three-and-out, block a punt, game's over. So, I mean, every game's different. When you make it you're a hero, when you don't make it you're a moron. And this is what I love about Frank: like, he don't shy away and make excuses. Like, 'This is what we believe in, and this is what we're going to do.'"
On if Ballard worries about any sense of apathy among the fanbase heading into his fifth season as general manager:
Ballard: "No. … I mean, look: when you look at our roster, when you look at the young (performers) — the (DeForest) Buckners, the Quenton Nelsons, the Darius Leonard, the Braden Smiths, the Nyheim Hines, the Jonathan Taylors, the Michael Pittmans, Grover (Stewart), (Julian) Blackmon — we've got a lot of good, young players under the age of 26 … like, everybody keep saying we're in our window; we're not in our window. It might be cracking, but we've got a good young team. Now, do we have work to do? Damn right we have work to do. And, Dan, we're always going to have work to do. There's no perfect team in this league. But I have a lot of confidence in our group. We've answered a lot of questions; we've not been perfect, and I'm the first one to admit when things don't go right, and I accept responsibility for that. But we've also done a lot of good work. I'm proud of that work."
On the fact that the NFL isn't nuanced; either you win or you lose:
Ballard: "It's a hard league. I mean, that's why last year (2019) when we finished 7-9, like, man, that falls on me. I mean, that just does. I'm the one that's at the head of the table, and that falls on me. And when we finished 11-5? I mean, look: it was a good football year, but we're not where we wanna be yet. We wanna be better, and, you know, our fans and this city deserves that."
On if Reich would also acknowledge that it all falls on him:
Ballard: "We run very similarly. We're very similar. That's why we get along so well. There's no pointing — like, we're never going to point the finger. I just don't roll that way, he doesn't roll that way. That's probably why we're able to handle the criticism."
On how Ballard will go about finding an answer at left tackle:
Ballard: "Alright, so I think we've got four really good O-linemen. Like, most teams you would say have two or three, but I think we've got four. You know, you've got Quenton (Nelson), who's an All-Pro, you've got Ryan Kelly, who's a Pro Bowl player, you've got (Mark) Glowinski, who's a really good player, and you've got Braden Smith, who I think is underlooked in this league. So you've got four good ones. And I think by the time we get to training camp, we'll find the right position for each one of them to play where we play good football."
On if either Quenton Nelson or Braden Smith will be in play at left tackle:
Ballard: "We'll find a way to get our best five on the field in their best spots to help us win."
Left tackle is harder than guard, correct?
Is a left tackle is as hard as it gets to find?
Ballard: "I would say now, today, both tackles are hard to spot. It's become such a passing league that they're all difficult (to find); more pressure is probably put on the tackles, just because of the edge rushers in this league. But, I mean, holy crud, the interior rushers are good, too. I mean, I think I've said this all along: like, when you asked the question, is it too high to take a guard at (No.) 6? Well, when you look at what the guards are getting paid in this league, it's almost up to tackle money, and they have to be able to pass pro — like, No. 1 they have to be able to protect. They're all important. But the tackle position's hard. It's hard."
On Nelson's performance at left tackle for a few snaps later in the season, and if he can play the position moving forward:
Ballard: "Here will be the hard thing for us with him: so, you've got an All-Pro guard. I mean, probably the best in the league at his position. Does it make your team better moving him out of that spot? Because he's so good at it. And can the replacement-level player that you put in there, he's not going to play at Quenton's level, but will Quenton play as good at the left tackle level that makes it worth it?"
Are you weakening two spots?
On how big of a stretch it would be to move Braden Smith from right tackle to left tackle:
Ballard: "This is the way an O-line coach put it to me: it's like playing golf, where you're a right-handed golfer, and you switch him to (left-handed). And I've seen it — look; Eric Fisher played right tackle for us our first year in Kansas City, and then we kicked him over to the left side. It can be done; it can absolutely be done. But who are we putting in at right tackle? So those are the questions we've got to answer. It's all on the table; by the time we hit September, our first game, we'll have those five sorted out, and I think we'll have good answers."
On if this is a good quarterback draft/free agent market?
Ballard: "It's a good quarterback draft. Yep. Good quarterback draft."
Everyone loves this Zach Wilson kid (from BYU):
Ballard: "He's pretty dynamic. Yeah, he's pretty dynamic. Free agent market, anytime a quarterback hits free agency, it's for a reason. Anytime a quarterback gets traded, it's for a reason. It doesn't mean they can't play, and it doesn't mean they can't play at a high level. Maybe circumstances will dictate them … Ryan Tannehill; I mean, all of a sudden Ryan Tannehill, they find gold in Tennessee. So you never know. But I can bet you this: Pat Mahomes is not on the market."
But Deshaun Watson is:
Ballard: "Well, at least Twitter tells us Deshaun Watson is on the market."
On the thought that there would be no way the Houston Texans would trade Deshaun Watson to the Colts, no matter what the return:
Ballard: "I can't talk about Deshaun Watson. I just know this: it'd be nice to get him out of the division (laughs)."
On the Colts' situation at wide receiver, and where Ballard sees the free agent/draft market at the position:
Ballard: "It's going to be really good. The draft's going to be as good as it was last year. The free agent market's good. But I'm gonna tell you … like, I like wideouts. I mean, I think we all know my philosophy that you win up front. You want weapons that can score touchdowns, no doubt. But I like our young guys. I think Michael Pittman is going to be a great player. I think you saw it. If he doesn't have the compartment syndrome and miss the three games — and that was a serious injury, and he fought to come back, and it took a little time to get back — but I think you saw the Tennessee (game), and then the playoff game vs. Buffalo he was outstanding. Getting Parris Campbell back — like, I still believe in Parris Campbell. He's had some bad luck. Parris Campbell's good. Parris Campbell's a talent. And he's a great kid, and he works, and he's got a little more internal fortitude and mental toughness that I think he's going to be able to overcome these tough situations he's had to deal with with his injuries. I think one of the most under-appreciated players on our team is Zach Pascal. All he does is show up and produce. That's all he does. Like, everybody says, 'Well, this guy's not dynamic,' and you look up in a game and he'll make a difference. He does a lot of the dirty work. So I like our young receivers. I think they're good players."
Can you add to them?
Ballard: "You're always wanting to add weapons. You're always wanting to add weapons to your team."
On being with the Chiefs when they built their team, and if there's ever a time where you're fast enough:
Ballard: "No. And I think Jonathan Taylor's pretty fast — I think we can all attest to that. I think Nyheim Hines has got speed. I think Parris Campbell has speed. Pittman's going to do it with size and strength. And he's a build-up (player) — like, he's faster than you think when he gets the ball in his hands; he's really fast when he gets the ball in his hands. Is he track speed fast like Tyreek (Hill) and guys like that? No. But I think Jonathan Taylor is, and I think Nyheim is, and I think Parris is. Look: what speed does, and especially after the catch, they can turn a seven-yard slant into a 60-yard touchdown. I mean, that's what we saw with Jonathan as the season went on. Jonathan, his plus-20 runs the last six or seven games was pretty incredible."
On if Ballard bought into the fact Jonathan Taylor struggled early in his rookie season:
Ballard: "It was unbelievable. Here we go, we've got a rookie back, in a whole new offensive system, no offseason, a limited training camp, and we expect him to be a 200-yard rusher with five carries right from the get-go. And, you know, the run game was a little different coming from the gun, so he had to get used to the gun runs; that's different, it's different from when you're behind center and the quarterback's behind center, those runs, it's just going to be a different viewpoint for you. So, no. He played good football. I'd tell you he played good football early; he played freakin' unique football the last six or seven games of the year. I mean, unique."
On if Ballard anticipates re-signing wide receiver Zach Pascal this offseason:
Ballard: "Yes. Yeah. We think Zach will be around."
On if Ballard has a priority list by position heading into the offseason, and if it starts with quarterback and left tackle:
Ballard: "Yeah, those are accurate assessments."
On if Ballard makes calls every day to initiate conversations about trades, or have discussions with agents about free agents:
Ballard: "Well, we can't do anything on free agents yet, because that'd be cheating. So we don't do that. But when it comes to trades, GMs will call each other — I mean, I talk to four or five a week, sometimes more. The last couple weeks have been a little more busy. And, look: this time of year, they're not giving out deals right now. They're looking to take everything you've got. They want you to be desperate, you know? And, maybe it's stupid, but, like, you've got to be able to put a value on a player, and not get caught up in the excitement of the moment, like doing everything in your power to just win the deal. It's going to be great for the fans and it's going to be great for the radio show — like, 'We just got the (player everyone wanted)' — but then we've got to go play football, and at that point, that guy's got to perform at the level you either just paid him or gave the compensation up for him. That's when reality always hits everybody. Then it's like a reverse course of what happens. So we've got to put our value on it, and if it works, great, and if it doesn't, we just continued to get kicked in the teeth."
On whether free-agent-to-be Jacoby Brissett is in the mix as a possibility at quarterback:
Ballard: "We like Jacoby. He'll be in the mix."
Mix to sign, or mix to play?
Ballard: "Mix for both. For both. So we've got to let that work out and play out how it should."
On whether the fact the Colts brought in Philip Rivers last offseason and didn't hold a competition for the starting job speaks to what the team thinks of Brissett:
Ballard: "Alright, so let's get into the starter money: that's the hard thing about the quarterback market right now. Like, I would tell you it was $30 (million) over two (years), so $15 million a year. There's no mid-level quarterback anymore. It's either you're paying this guy 35 freakin' million or he's a rookie. There used to be a level in there in the middle. There's no middle, and I remember when we did it (signed Brissett to an extension), and I don't feel any regret on doing that because Jacoby deserved it and he deserved a chance the year he was a starter. Philip was just a unique opportunity. You had Nick (Sirianni), Jason (Michael) and Frank, who knew Philip, knew the offense, and, you know, you don't pass up on a guy that we all thought could play at a good level for us, and we knew what we were getting. I mean, Philip's a Hall of Fame player."
On the fact that Brissett isn't totally out of the picture at quarterback moving forward:
Ballard: "No. No. Not at all. Not at all."
What about Jacob Eason?
Ballard: "He's in the mix. I mean, we like Jacob. If I could sit here and tell you I knew what he was, I could be a little more (forthcoming), but I can't. …"
On if Ballard knows a little bit more about Eason just due to the work he puts in before and after practices and in position meetings:
Ballard: "I know this: he is a big, talented kid that can throw the football."
Does he work?
Ballard: "He works."
Is he tough?
Ballard: "Don't know. … You don't know — no preseason games, no live action. We thought he had pretty good toughness at Washington watching him on tape. You don't know. I mean, that's the hard thing about this last year is that with no preseason to really get to test the mettle of a guy in those games, and those games are important, and they're hard on young players — quarterbacks not as much, but for other players — because they're playing so many snaps. But we've still got a lot of questions that's got to be answered on Eason. But we like what we see so far."
On the preseason being canceled last year making you realize you're missing what you don't have:
Ballard: "It'll be interesting to see what we end up doing … as a league. I have no idea what they're going to do. I mean, heck, we haven't even gotten the Combine figured out. So who knows what level and where we're going? But it'll be interesting to see what happens here going forward."
On whether free-agent-to-be Justin Houston could be back with the Colts in 2021:
Ballard: "It's more work, and, look: my relationship with Justin goes back to Kansas City; we were together four years in Kansas City. And that led to us getting (here). I've been with Justin six years. He's a tremendous pro, and again, it's going to come down to market. I'd love to say, 'Just get everybody back.' That's just not the reality of how our world works. We have a salary cap that we don't even know what the number is, and it's not going up. We know that. We know the bottom line's going to be $175 million, maybe it's higher; we know a limit's been set, so we've got to work off that. And that's going to put restraints on everybody in the league, I mean, depending on what that number ends up being."
On if the Chiefs are the measuring stick for the moves being made by the Colts:
Ballard: "I'm in two-fold with it: so, first, we have not won a division yet. I mean, that's the truth, that's real. So now it's Tennessee. Like, we've got to go catch Tennessee, alright? But we've got on our eye on the best team in the AFC right now, and that's Kansas City. And you've got to build your team accordingly. We have our certain beliefs of how the team needs to be built, but you've got to know who you're matching up against, and those are good football teams. And you're right — our division is good. And it's gonna get better; I mean, Urban Meyer's a heck of a football coach. He'll build something good in Jacksonville. And so it's going to be highly competitive here going forward."
On how important it will be to find someone at the quarterback position who has been able to handle some failure and overcome the feeling he's not wanted at his previous team:
Ballard: "I think every quarterback at some point in their career struggles. They've got to stand on the edge of the cliff and look into the abyss and not jump. A lot of them jump, and they can't get out of it. They've got to have something internally that allows them to say … because failure, it's like a baseball player: you bat .300, you're failing seven times (out of 10) — and you've got to be able to handle that in baseball; I deal with my son, because he's beating himself up all of the time in baseball. Well, it's no different playing quarterback. You're gonna have moments as a quarterback where it's not going to be pretty. You've got to be able to handle that, because at the end of the day, the quarterback gets all the credit, usually, and all the blame when it doesn't go well. And he's got to be able to handle that. And that's why the college scouting's so important. Like, that's why we scout every player A-to-Z in the college draft; A-to-Z. We go A-to-Z on all of them because that information becomes critical for you … we might not take them, but when they're with another team, we're going to rely on our information that we had — we'll pay attention to what's going on in the league, but we're going to fall back on our information if there's a chance for us to acquire that player."
On whether the Colts' locker room is ready to handle any kind of player that could be acquired:
Ballard: "Yeah. Yeah. It's good. It's freakin' good, man. The addition of (DeForest) Buckner, really, I think, almost cemented (it). 'Cause he's a real pro, man. Like, the way he works, the way he shows up — every day at 6:15 in the morning, Buckner's in the building with his routine. And all of a sudden you look up and there'd be another player, and another player. And these were young (guys) … I mean, we forget, like, Darius Leonard is a young player. Even though this (was) just his third year, he's still a young player in the league. And it was great for them to see a veteran come in — and Buckner's only 26 — who had been through it, had a great routine. And these guys already worked, but it's been fun to watch. And then when you have the veterans like Philip and Justin come in, and T.Y., who's been great, all of these veterans, we've got a great locker room of guys. I told somebody this yesterday — because they're looking at me, too, right now; they're looking at our group to see how we're going to answer this quarterback situation. They want to win. These dudes want to win. Like, they want to win; these young kids have had a taste of the playoffs twice, and they're pissed, one, because we got beat by Buffalo, and so they've got a taste in their mouth of it, and they want to continue that. That's good. That's a good thing. That's alright. We're not going to shy away from that."
Players are always evaluating:
Ballard: "They know it all. They know. Players know. It's like when you pay a guy: they know if that guy deserved the money or not. They know. And it's the second you start doing something opposite … they'll call B.S. on it. And I encourage it. That's what I love about Quenton. Like, Quenton has no problem telling me when he thinks something's off. … There's a respect level there. … And if we bring somebody in that doesn't fit, and they know it, they've got to bring it up."