INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard this week joined 1070 The Fan's "The Jeff and Big Joe Show" to give an update on the team's approach to free agency so far, what he saw in wide receiver Devin Funchess, how the roster-building process continues to evolve and much more.
(A quick note: Ballard's appearance was prior to the team announcing the signing of defensive end Justin Houston on Thursday.)
On the team's approach the first week-plus of free agency:
"We thought there were some good players on the market and we dabbled in to see if we could get something done. Just couldn't get a price point where we felt comfortable with what the player was gonna give us. Honestly, I mean, we started free agency right when the season ended when we signed Vinny (Adam Vinatieri) and (Mark) Glowinski and then being able to get (Margus) Hunt done, and Pierre (Desir) done, and (Clayton) Geathers done. To us, when it's your player who's played for you and you know exactly what he is, we feel more comfortable paying our own players. Is that to say we don't want to sign a player in free agency? No. But it's got to be at a price point that we think is beneficial for both parties."
On what went through the decision to re-sign safety Clayton Geathers to a one-year deal:
"Well, he fought through some things last year, and just making sure, when you do a one-year deal it gives the player another year to show that he's completely healthy and can play throughout the season. I mean, I think I've let it be known how much of a fan of Clayton Geathers and we think it's a good deal for both sides. Really happy to have him back and think he'll have a big impact for us this year."
On if the Colts could go safety in the draft, despite the fact they brought back Geathers:
"There's some good players in the draft. As a matter of fact, we just finished doing the ... you know, we go through it in February once and then we spend most of March going through (and) watching every guy again. We like the safety crop in the draft."
On the opinion that the Colts haven't done enough in free agency to this point, and how they can fill the gaps to catch up to top-tier NFL teams:
"Well, I'll tell you this: we were a very young football team last year and they're going to get better. I think people need to realize that a lot of these guys are not at their ceilings yet. Just take the offensive line: do you think Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith are as good as they're gonna to be after a year of bullets as a rookie? No different with any of our young players. We think our young players (will) continue to improve. And, look, everybody has a different way of team building and I don't know if you can sit here and say any way's right or wrong. This is what we believe in and this is the path that we're going to go. And look, if we get to a point — and you can read this as you want to read it — a true difference maker in the free agent market, I'm good paying for. But they have to be a true difference maker, unquestionably. Not the media saying he's a true difference maker; the tape saying he's a true difference maker."
On the fact the team brought in running back Jay Ajayi on a free agent visit, and what that could mean for the Colts' other young running backs:
"I think you can see, we bring in all kinds (of free agents for visits). I mean, from now until ... even during the season we bring players in and we kick the tires to see where they're at. And if we think it's going to be a fit at every position ... I wouldn't single out the running back position because we like Marlon Mack, and we like Nyheim Hines, and we like (Jordan) Wilkins, and we like (Jonathan) Williams. I mean, we think we've got a good, young stable of runners here. But I think when there's a good player on the market, you need to do your due diligence."
On how the team arrives at certain lucrative contract offers to entice players to sign early on:
"It's called the first day of free agency."
On the signing of new wide receiver Devin Funchess:
"Let me say this about Devin: when I was in Kansas City we really liked him. And I thought his third year in the league he really started making progress, to a point where you thought, 'Man, this guy is really coming on.' I mean, he's a big man, he's a really good athlete. I almost laugh — everybody says he's slow. I disagree with that assessment. He can bend. He's been inconsistent catching a football — he knows that — and there's things he needs to work on, but he's 24 years old. He's young, he's got upside. We liked the kid, we liked the work ethic. We did a lot of research on him and we think we can help him get to where he wants to go and he can help us get where we want to go."
On if the Funchess signing means the team won't continue to pursue Dontrelle Inman in free agency:
"Well, there's a difference in age between Dontrelle and Funchess. And (Funchess is), I think, 6'4 1/2" 225 pounds. We're still working through with Dontrelle. We like Dontrelle a lot and he had a great year last year but we're still working through some details on that."
On what he learned about his football team in the postseason:
"You know, I almost go back to our experience in Kansas City when we went through the 1-5 season. When you start off that bad you have to extend so much energy to just get back in it. When you get in the playoffs — remember we beat Houston in a similar way that we beat Houston in the first round of the playoffs, then went to (Kansas City) and I thought we just kind of ran out of gas. No disrespect for them, they beat us, and no disrespect to Kansas City. I mean, Kansas City was the better football team. To go on the road and win in the playoffs, you've got to be full ticking at everything you're doing. I think having a young team that had never ... I mean look, you're talking about a young football team that went on the road and won in Houston. That is not easy to do. Everybody glosses over that like that was ... just a minor accomplishment; no, that was a big accomplishment. Then at the end of the day we just got beat in Kansas City. Great experience for us; not what we wanted to have happen, but saying that, we'll learn from it and we'll continue to get better and grow."
On what Andrew Luck has been up to this offseason:
"I'm not going to lie to you all: I have not talked to Andrew in a month and a half. And that's a complete flip ... from my first two years on the job. No, he's getting to be a regular guy again, which is good."
On which teams the Colts feel they are building a roster to be able to beat in the playoffs:
"Well, No. 1, we're not building a team to match up with other people. We're building a team for them to match up with us. And teams that play together ... I mean I just think when you get into, 'Well, they got this player, we've got to go match them,' there's something to that, yes, but at the end of the day — I mean, I've said it over and over again — we're going to continue to build our fronts. We're going to be really good up front. We're going to get really good quarterback play, and then we'll fill in the rest as we get going. But this is a team that plays together, learned how to not lose football games, which I think is a big deal in this league. I thought when we started out 1-5, we were losing more games by our own miscues than getting actually physically beat. I mean, I can't remember one — even the New England game where we went into it shorthanded, I didn't just feel like we were just completely outmatched where we didn't have a chance. So we'll just continue to build this team the way we believe."
On if Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, etc., have proven that pass rush can come from anywhere on the line or as a group, and if the Colts think it should eventually come from the edge players:
"No, unquestionably, it's as a group. I mean, those guys are great players. I mean, Denico Autry had nine sacks last year and missed time. I think anytime you can get pressure up the middle, that disrupts the quarterback as much as anything. It really helps your ends because now it constricts the pocket. I was pleased ... I mean, look, we want to be able to rush four, but saying that I was really pleased with how Matt (Eberflus) and the defensive staff created ways to get pressure bringing five and doing some different things. You got seven sacks out of (Darius) Leonard, you got 5 1/2 out of Sheard. We spread it out along a bunch of different guys and that's not always a bad thing either. To me ... at the end of the day you want to do it with four, but until you get that four right and get a dominant right end and a couple really dominant players on the front, you do it as a group."
On where Darius Leonard can improve in his second season:
"Well, I know this with Darius: he is driven unlike many I've been around before. I mean, one thing about him is when he tells you he wants to be the best, he absolutely wants to be the best, so he's always looking for an edge that he can get. There's some things in pass coverage that I think coming from a lower level (in college), missing the OTA practices last year, some fundamental things that he can do better. I think he can get stronger. Those are all things he'll work on this offseason and in OTAs and into the season."