PHOENIX – To say Chris Ballard has eased into his first NFL general manager job would be false.
Ballard has been very busy in his first two months on the job.
He's revamped the Colts roster, signing 10 free agents---the most of any offseason in team history.
Jim Irsay has been impressed by seeing Ballard's work first hand. Chuck Pagano is eager to see the defensive additions that will inevitably come out of next month’s NFL Draft.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ballard met the media from the League's Annual Meetings in an all-encompassing talk about his active free agency, and looking ahead to the rest of the offseason.
Here are 10 takeaways from Ballard's time with the media on Tuesday:
1. Willing Trade Partners
When informed of the seven picks Chris Ballard has in the first five rounds in 2017, the GM was left wanting more.
"Not enough," a laughing Ballard said on Tuesday of the Colts hoping to acquire more picks in 2017.
Even though the Colts have seven picks in the first five rounds, the most they've had since 2005, Ballard backed up what Jim Irsay said earlier this week---the Colts are willing trade (back) partners.
"We won't be (afraid to trade back)," Ballard said on Tuesday. "We will not be timid about moving around in the draft. Will it happen? I don't know. There's some years we said that in Kansas City and we didn't make one trade. And then last year we beat bopped around a few times in the draft. You've got to have a partner that's willing to trade with and you have to be willing to work out the compensation.
"We are definitely open to trading back in this draft and we have to make sure when we do it, that it's the right thing, (and) we still have the right players on the board targeted."2. Spending Valuable Time With Coaching Staff
Part of Chris Ballard's routine the past few months has been watching tape with coaches to get an exact feel into how certain free agents/draft picks could fit into the Colts.
It's all part of Ballard being really pleased with the cohesiveness between the scouting/coaching staffs.
"I want to know, if we draft this guy, how does he fit?" Ballard says of sitting in meeting rooms to watch film with coaches.
"Where do we play him on first down? Where's he playing on third down? What's the plan for a player? You have to have a plan for the guy to hit a ceiling. Now, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. That happens. It's happened to everybody in this league. You do your due diligence and hope you're right when you take the player. But we're going to give ourselves a chance by knowing exactly how he fits in our scheme, offensively and defensively. Those are the kind of questions you have to ask of the staff, and it's been really beneficial to me."
A new GM coming into an organization where only one coach (the wide receivers coach) has changed from last season to this one is rare.
But Ballard says things have gone very well from a communication/planning standpoint in what is trying to be built.
"This is not the ideal (situation) when you're coming in," Ballard acknowledged on Tuesday. "There can be tension. But there's been zero tension. It's been really fun to go to work every day. And I really look for that.
"It's a lot easier to solve problems when you're not at each other's throats all the time. But as me and Chuck grow together, we'll continue to work through all the situations. (The coaches) have been easy to work with. They've been open minded toward the process, which in change is not always easy. And that's been really good."3. Chris Ballard Is A Big Mo Alie-Cox Fan
A major reason why Chris Ballard felt comfortable in trading Dwayne Allen was what he saw when evaluating the 2016 film of Erik Swoope.
As the Colts' third tight end last season, Swoope averaged 19.8 yards per catch, the second highest of any NFL tight end.
Can the Colts expand on that elite production?
"I think Swoope is really talented," Ballard said on Tuesday. "I want to see Swoope get to his ceiling. He's a very talented athlete and can be a mismatch player."
Ballard knows tight end talent. With Chicago (Greg Olsen) and Kansas City (Travis Kelce), Ballard saw how dynamic a unique tight end can be for an offense.
With Doyle and Swoope now atop the depth chart in Indy, Ballard is still a fan of adding to that group through the draft.
"It's a great tight end class," Ballard says of the 2017 bunch. "There's guys who can really block, there's mismatch tight ends who can really create some significant mismatches. Those are tremendous weapons to have and add to your offense. They're very hard to match up against. I don't ever want to discount a playmaker at that position."
4. Offensive Line On Ballard's Mind
Of all his intense evaluation over the past two months, a group that has positively surprised Ballard has been the offensive line.
That makes sense after the Colts drafted four offensive linemen last year and saw the unit play its best towards the end of 2016.
"The O-line is very young, but I think it has a chance to really grow," Ballard said. "It's been fun to watch that group work together. They are all in the building working together. And that's been fun to see. All their workouts they are doing them together."
Ballard likes the position flex from Joe Haeg and Denzelle Good. He was also pleased to add some interior depth with veteran Brian Schwenke, after not bringing back Jonotthan Harrison.
On Tuesday, Ballard would not commit to the starting offensive line definitely being on the current roster.
"I wouldn't say that because we still want to add some competition," Ballard says of next month's draft potentially impacting the 2017 starting offensive line.
"When you get those five guys in there settled hopefully they can work together for a season but we all know that's not realistic so that six, seventh and eighth lineman come critical. And they have to have position flexibility. You've got to have a tackle that can play guard. You need to have a guard that can play center. It's important. We will continue to dig." 5. Colts Likely To Add Another Quarterback
Ballard told NFL Network on Tuesday that the Colts will be adding a fourth quarterback to the roster at some point this offseason.
Carrying four quarterbacks isn't a direct indictment to the injury situation for Andrew Luck, but rather something Ballard is used to---four quarterbacks on a 90-man roster for Training Camp.
"You can't have enough good players at that position, much like any position, but that one we all know how important and critical it is," Ballard said.
"Everywhere I've been, we've always taken four (into Training Camp) and that will be our plan going forward."
So look for Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris to have another healthy arm join them this offseason if/when more reps will have to be absorbed due to Luck's rehab schedule.
6. Active Free Agency Quieting Down
When Chris Ballard had his introductory press conference in January, he said the Colts would likely not be too active in free agency.
Financially speaking, the Colts held true to that over the past month.
But not from a quantity standpoint in new faces.
The Colts signed 10 outside free agents, the most they've ever had in a free agency period.
"I guess after a couple of weeks on the job I knew we were older on defense and we weren't going to be able to fix everything in the draft and we wanted to get some young, veteran talent to up the competition level," Ballard said of his free agency plan evolving.
"I think (the free agent additions) for the most part these were all young players that still have upside on their career, which is what we are looking for, the ascending arrow. Most of them are on short-term deals so they still have something to prove and it ups the competition level on defense, which we wanted to do. Then when we go to the draft, no matter what side of the ball we are on and end up taking a player, it's going to continue to up the competition level. I've repeatedly said this and I just don't know any other way, everywhere I've been we try to get the best 90 men we can get. Let's get the best 90-man roster. There's no such thing as a camp body. No. If they are in camp, we think they have something to make our team."
7. Is Another Pass Rusher Coming?
From a core draft philosophy standpoint, Chris Ballard has a few positons always on his mind.
Offensive line. Defensive line. Pass rush. Those are always going to be close to Ballard's thinking.
Despite free agency being dried up in the major pass rush department this year, Ballard doesn't believe a true pass rusher has to come from a high draft pick.
"If it works out in the draft, (great). But guys come from all over," Ballard said.
"They don't necessarily have to be a first-round pick. Now, they do have to have some kind of dominant (trait), whether it's speed, athleticism, power – you just have to be able to see it and identify it.
"(But) teams are not letting pass rushers walk out of the building."
The last statement is why it's critical for the Colts to still keep an eye on the pass rush group when the 2017 Draft gets here on April 27.8. Ballard Shows Restrain In Free Agency
The temptation was there for Ballard.
But when the bidding wars of free agency started to transpire, the Colts showed (proper) restraint in withholding from any talks leading to a deal.
"You've got to be able to go home every night and lay your head on the bed knowing that we are going to find a player, eventually," Ballard said of refraining from any major contracts in free agency.
"You don't want to make unsound decisions based on pressure from the outside of the building or even internal pressure that we have to have a guy. I'll give our coaching staff a lot of credit, they've been very patient with us on the scouting end that they understood what our vision was and got on the same page where we all had the same vision."
Ballard pointed out on Tuesday that the Chiefs claimed three different players who went on to sign second contracts in Kansas City. That doesn't happen very often.
"This is not the only time to acquire players," the new GM said. "You've got to have some discipline and you've got to put a value with your club of what that value is. If it works out, great. Then if it doesn't work out, we've got time and we can continue to work."9. Kamar Aiken's Presence Brings Competition For Donte Moncrief, Jacoby Brissett
This isn't the first time Chris Ballard and Kamar Aiken have been on the same team.
In 2012, Aiken spent a little less than a month on the Bears practice squad.
He moved on to New England later that season, before eventually landing in Baltimore, where he was the Ravens' leading receiver in 2015.
Ballard left the Bears after the 2012 season. Following four years in Kansas City, Ballard is now the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.
Some four and a half years after those limited days in Chicago, the two are back together in Indianapolis.
Aiken is the most recent free agent signing of Ballard and is one free agent the GM is eager to see compete in a crowded wide receiver room.
"A bigger receiver, a great guy, great teammate, tough, will do the dirty work," Ballard said in describing the 6-2, 215-pound Aiken. "We thought he was just a really good fit to add competition to the group, and he will do that. He's a great pro. We think Kamar's got a lot of upside.
"We added competition, but it's not just competition for Phillip (Dorsett). It's competition for (Donte) Moncrief also."10. Bigger Role For Robert Turbin?
Robert Turbin wants a bigger role in returning to the Colts for a second season.
And Chris Ballard seems to be fully on board with that happening.
"It'll be interesting to see if (Turbin) can progress even more on first and second down and take some of the load off (Frank Gore)," Ballard said on Tuesday. "But that'll be completely up to our coaching staff and Robert and how he performs."
Turbin averaged right around five touches a game for the Colts last year, filling duties such as short-yardage and third-down.
After a few days of free agency, the Colts made sure Turbin wasn't going anywhere in 2017.
"Robert's had success in this league and he really niched out a role for us last year," Ballard said.
"We wanted Robert back. He's a great pro and he's even a better human being. I really enjoy being around him. Those are the kind of guys your root for."*
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