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Indianapolis Colts

General Manager Update

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Colts Notebook: GM Chris Ballard on free agency, cornerbacks, Anthony Richardson

Ballard gave updates and his thoughts on several important topics on Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando. 

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ORLANDO – The Colts have signed nine players since NFL free agency opened two weeks ago. Only two of them – defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and quarterback Joe Flacco – didn't play for the Colts in 2023.

But that doesn't mean the Colts weren't active in free agency. The team spent plenty of cash – don't forget about running back Jonathan Taylor's October extension, too – to retain their own players. 

And if the Colts didn't keep those guys, like Kenny Moore II, Grover Stewart, Michael Pittman Jr., etc. they would've stared down a number of holes on their roster – with no guarantees on who would fill those holes. 

"No doubt we looked at free agency in totality," general manager Chris Ballard said. "I mean, we looked at everybody. It kind of worked out where it ended up being a lot of our own guys, which are all good players.

"I think sometimes what gets lost is when you lose a player, it creates a void. So you lose a Grover Stewart, you lose a Kenny Moore or you lose a Pittman, now you've got a real void. Sure, you've gone and signed another player at another position, but now you've created another void."

Ballard said the players the Colts re-signed (with the exception of Pittman, who was on the franchise tag) had interest from other teams in free agency. That meant the Colts had to move quickly to retain them, all while evaluating outside free agents. Ultimately, the Colts prioritized using resources to retain key pieces of their team, leaving them without an abundance of holes to plug after the first wave of free agency receded.

"I think any time you can keep continuity in your own players is a good thing," Ballard said. "It's not a bad thing. Because you know what you're getting in the player. It's always easy to look outside and think automatically that no doubt this guy's going to be an upgrade. But there's usually a reason they hit free agency."

More work to do

In retaining Stewart, Lewis, Taven Bryan and then adding Davis, the Colts feel like they have the necessary depth to be able to roll through nine or 10 defensive linemen – a critical personnel grouping in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme.

In the defensive backfield, though, Ballard said there could be opportunities to do more through free agency in the coming weeks.

"We know we need to add and there's still some vets out there that we will definitely pay attention to," Ballard said. "But there's still work to be done."

The Colts like some of their young cornerbacks and safeties, and believe JuJu Brents, Jaylon Jones, Dallis Flowers, Nick Cross and Daniel Scott all have upside as they enter Year 2 or Year 3 in the NFL. Ballard specifically discussed those cornerbacks on Tuesday.

"No question we got work to do in the secondary still," Ballard said. "But I like our three young corners. JuJu's gotta be healthy, we gotta get Dallis back healthy, we think we will. We think JuJu will be back healthy. We think both of them are very good. I think we underestimate what Jones did. I thought Jones played really good football last year and did it against some very talented wideouts and never once backed down. He's going to continue to get better. We think these guys are going to continue to get better."

A silver lining for Anthony Richardson

The Colts' plan for Anthony Richardson was for him to start for the entire 2023 season. But his development didn't stop when he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery after four games. 

"It sucked that he got hurt," Ballard said. "But the positive was, he was able to take a step back and watch. That's valuable. It is. I mean, it sucks he wasn't getting reps during the week and live game reps. But to be able to sit back and watch and see in-game situations, that is very valuable."

Among the things Richardson picked up on while sidelined in addition to learning head coach Shane Steichen's offense: How to navigate the internal and external pressure of being a highly-picked QB1; the physical grind and the work needed to put your body through a 17-game season; and the necessary ways he needs to prepare for games during the week. 

Whether it's more valuable for a quarterback to play or sit as a rookie, though, is not the same for every quarterback. Richardson, in a way, had positive experiences doing both – there were benefits for him lighting up the Los Angeles Rams in the second half of Week 4, and benefits of him watching and learning as the Colts made a late-season playoff push. 

"It goes both ways," Ballard said. "I don't know if you can say one is right and one is wrong. I think a lot of that's dependent on who the player is and how they handle it. You don't want to put them in the depths of the abyss right away but not having success at all. The good thing with Anthony, he had some moments of ugliness but he also had a lot of really good stuff happen."

Ballard, like Steichen, is encouraged by what Richardson's future could look like in 2024 and beyond. But that excitement is measured and realistic knowing where Richardson is – and where he could go in his career. 

"Do I expect some bumps, absolutely I do," Ballard said. "But I think even any second-year quarterback, even if they play better, it's not like it's going to be 17 games of elite play. They're going to still have some moments. Now the league's had a year to study them. They adjust to that too. I'm excited about where Anthony is."

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