INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Friday was in studio with 1070 The Fan's Dan Dakich, where the two discussed an array of Colts-related topics over a 35-minute interview, including what Ballard feels is the team's No. 1 offseason need, why the team won't pursue just any big-name free agent and much more.
Here's a full transcript of that conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below:
On Ballard's evaluation of the offensive line in 2018, and the success of moving Braden Smith, drafted as a guard, to right tackle:
"A little luck. Well, look: I did a thing the other day, and they asked me, and Morocco Brown, during the draft process kept saying, 'Hey I think this kid can play right tackle. They asked him to do it one spring.' And then Guge (former offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo), during fall camp, we finally made the decision — so we had (Matt) Slauson at right guard; veteran, he was good for the group. So we're trying to figure out how we're gonna get Braden active on gameday; one of the top seven. I said, 'Well we're gonna have to rep him at tackle to make sure if he has to go in the game he can get it.' Then we started doing it and Guge started saying, 'Well you know what? I think he can do it.' And, you know, me and Frank (Reich) were kind of like, 'Eh nah,' we're not quite ready to go there. And then, kind of out of necessity versus New England — remember, (J'Marcus) Webb goes down, (Denzelle) Good's hurt, (Le'Raven) Clark is the only other tackle, (Anthony) Castonzo's hurt — so out of kind of necessity we had to put (Smith) there (at right tackle) against New England. We're like, 'OK, he held up good.' And then just every week he got better. And I think, at one point I was kind of debating, do we move him back to his position he played in college? Do we keep him at right tackle? But, you know, we think an offseason of great technique work, fundamentals, he's just going to continue to grow at the position."
On if this current lineup along the offensive line is where he wants it to be:
"Yes. You know, (Mark) Glowinski's up (for free agency), so we've gotta see where that's going."
On if the Colts have to spend all of their cap money:
On if there's an NFL rule that teams have to spend their cap money:
"You have to spend 89 percent over a four-year period. No. You do not have to. And we can get into the money deal in a minute here, but is (the offensive line) set? Do I think we have winning players? Yes, I do. And I say this all the time: I think you've got to go into the draft with 10 — not five, 10 — 10 that you know you can play with. I mean, look: injuries happen, things that you don't anticipate happening, so you need to go in there with 10, not only from a standpoint of knowing that you've got 10 lineman that are capable, but when you add the rookies into the mix, you know you want your second- and third-team lines in the preseason to be functional so your backup quarterback can actually get some meaningful reps in games. So I think we've still got work to do in that area, but, look, we've got some young (pieces) — Evan Boehm, who we took off the practice squad in L.A., ended up playing pretty good; (Josh Andrews), who we took from Philly; you've still got Joe Haeg, who we really like, who can play all five spots on the line which makes him really valuable; you know, Le'Raven Clark's kind of at a prove-it point, where he's really gotta prove it this year going into (his) fourth year. So I think we've got a little bit of depth; we want to continue to add depth."
On the importance of culture to him, and if that could prevent him from wanting to pursue guys like Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown:
"Well, first, I can't comment on either one. I know you want me to, but I can't. But let me say this: (culture) is important. And I just think you are what you bring into the building. Look: we have a great head coach. We've got a great staff. But you make their jobs a lot harder — and it's a long season, and it shows up. Am I against adding a player that's a difference maker on Sunday that I know is going to help us win games? No. I would absolutely add that player. He's gotta fit into our culture. He has to fit in to doing things right. He has to fit in about being team-first. He has to be accountable to his teammates. They have to fit that criteria. Are we gonna be perfect doing it? No. I mean, come on man; I'm not perfect. And we're going to screw some things up and make some mistakes. But that's one thing: we're going to err on the side of caution when it comes to who we add to our locker room."
On how difficult it is to separate the reality from the perception when it comes to a certain player and what kind of presence they would be:
"All my years on the road, getting to the truth and to the core of who the player is, and that's our job. And I put a lot on our scouts. To me, the key to all this is information; who gets the most accurate information. And you can't bring a guy in and be wrong, especially when it's a high-dollar guy. You can't be wrong. We've gotta be right. I say ultimately it's on me if we're wrong in that situation, and, I mean, and I can count out the times that I have been wrong. And then you correct the mistake; you don't try to justify it by keeping him on the team. That's bad ball. That's losing football when you do that. But you have to be accurate, and getting to the truth, it's not easy. It's not easy to shift through it. And sometimes it's by just getting it close to the hole. You don't really know, you don't know until you live with a guy. You can listen and everybody can tell you all this stuff, so let's get a putt to win it close to the hole as we can, and then we'll figure out how far we missed it by when we get the guy in the building."
On what he feels the biggest need is for his team right now:
"Well, I know what the fans think it is … receiver. 'We've gotta get another wideout.' I get it. I mean, we all want one. I would love to go pluck one off a tree…"
…You kind of did with Dontrelle Inman:
"And Inman was good for us. He was really good for us. And, look: Ryan Grant was good early until he got nicked up, and then just kept getting nicked up where he couldn't get back to speed again. (I) wanna continue to add defensively; to the talent level on defense. I still believe you win games, you know, with good defense — at some point. I mean, look, it was at a record pace this year, the (offensive) numbers. I mean, it's incredible what offenses are doing. But I just think there's points in the season, and then when you get in the playoffs, you're gonna have to stop people. You've gotta get stops. That eventually is going to allow us to get over the hump."
And in the Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, they guarded you:
"They played defense. … They play defense. Absolutely."
On agreeing to terms with kicker Adam Vinatieri on a new contract, and whether he was ever hesitant about bringing Vinatieri back:
"No. Matter of fact, I know the reports are close, we just actually came to (an) agreement here in the last hour. No. No. I'm around him so much, and you keep waiting for the shoe to fall, and it doesn't because he works. He works so hard to take care of his body, he's such a pro. Like, I don't think you can ever take into account — and I didn't think I would ever say this with a kicker — but take into account a guy's presence on the team, what it means. Now, they've gotta perform. And he does perform. But his presence on the team is valuable. It's valuable to us."
On what value he places on backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett:
"In my mind, I have what I think the worth is. Now, is that worth us moving on from him? I don't know. But Jacoby is a valuable, valuable piece to our team. I mean, I know he doesn't play right now 'cause of Andrew (Luck) — preparation, locker room, allowing us to sleep at night knowing that we have a chance if the starter goes down. That brings a value to us that we're not just giving Jacoby away. We're not doing it. And look: the one thing I am is pretty honest, and I had this same discussion with Jacoby, and he was good, you know? He appreciates the honesty."
On if Brissett has ever come to him and asked him to trade him so he can play elsewhere:
"No. He's an unbelievable teammate. And he knows his time is gonna come. He knows he's gonna get his chance. And, so, he's really close with Bill Parcells. I mean, Bill has been kind of a mentor of his through in high school, and I'll give Coach Parcells credit: he has trained him well. He trained him to do the right things, be a good teammate — your time will come. When you work, you will get a chance to earn it and you will be the guy somewhere."
On if he feels Deon Cain could be a guy who could potentially fill a role as a No. 2 wide receiver:
"Yeah, I mean, we think he's good enough. But he hasn't played, you know? And he's coming off a knee injury. We love Deon Cain. We think Deon's got big upside. To say he's going to be that guy next year, to me…"
…What defines a good second receiver?
"Somebody that allows you, that if T.Y.'s getting doubled, he can win the single, he can win the one-on-one on the other side consistently. To me, that's a really good two. That came out of the tight end position for us this year; that was (Eric) Ebron. So if you're gonna put two on T.Y. (Hilton), good; well then we're gonna hurt you with our tight end position. When you can get three — when you can get that No. 2 wideout, have a tight end and have T.Y. — that's what made Kansas City so difficult. because, you know, you've got Travis Kelce, you've got Tyreek Hill, then you've got Sammy Watkins. That made them very difficult to defend."
On the irony of his statement, "The rivalry is back on" about the New England Patriots, considering the Colts were one win away from playing the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game again, and if he regrets saying that:
"To be honest with you, I didn't get the rivalry here in town. I didn't. I mean, look: I traded with them right away, trade Dwayne Allen to them. Like, I came in here and our working relationship had always been really good with New England. We trade Dwayne Allen, and the sky is falling. 'They've traded with the Patriots?' I'm like, 'What's the big deal? I mean, they're just like any other team in the league.' And then we make the trade for Jacoby. But then, after the incident with Josh (McDaniels), to see our fans, the passion that they have for the rivalry with New England, I got it. Like, I got it. And, look, one thing I really appreciated was their support. I did. And I'm all in with the rivalry. Damn right. We've gotta make it a rivalry. I mean, the rivalry's back on, but we've gotta make it a rivalry. They've been whippin' our ass here for a while. We've gotta make it a rivalry."
On why he thinks the Colts were able to turn around a 1-5 start to the 2018 season:
Trust in what?
"Coaching. Head coach. I think one of the hardest things for a coach to do — and I think one of his main jobs — is to build authentic trust, that no matter what he is going to support and back the locker room…"
…Going for it on 4th and 4 in overtime against the Houston Texans in Week 4: did that build the trust in the locker room?
"So, in the press conference the other day, when I went on for like 50 minutes, that was one of the questions. And they asked me, 'When did you know with Frank Reich?' Well, the interview — 30 minutes into it. I mean, I felt like a freaking moron. You know, why didn't I freaking interview him sooner? I mean, you have no idea. Here's this guy, he walks in the door, he's got presence, he's intelligent, he's smart, he's got a vision, he's got a plan. I'm just like, 'Holy… You're an idiot.' And then next is the Houston game, when he went for it in overtime. I just remember making a statement to our guys, I said, 'Well, he's got conviction in what he believes.' And then even better is he stood in front of the press and he owned it, and he answered all of the questions, and he took it on for all of them. And I knew right then he had the locker room. He had 'em. They believed him, they trusted him, and I don't care if you're coaching fifth grade football, high school, NFL — that matters. That wins. It still wins at every level. The locker room still has to come together and play together and care for one another and trust everything that's going on. And the second trust is broken between the head coach and the locker room, it's over. You're never getting it back. You're just not. You're never getting it back."
On what needs to happen to improve the Colts' defense:
"Well, I mean, I think we need to continue to upgrade the talent."
Where? Where are you most concerned defensively?
"It's always going to be — and our front played good; they played good football — but having a dominant, dominant edge rusher — which is almost like that wideout we talk about, they're not easy to find; we've got to find him; when we'll find him, maybe the draft this year? Maybe free agency? We'll keep searching and we'll keep throwing darts to try to find the right traits in that rusher. I think in this league, when you can have a dominant rusher that the other team really has to, on Monday, come in and game plan for — and really more than one; to me, you want two or three along the front that can rush the pressure — that would be the No. 1 priority in my mind going forward. You've got to be able to play — we're primarily a zone coverage team, but we're gonna play man-to-man — and you've got to be able to lock up and there's going to be times on third down and points in the game where you've gotta lock up and play man-to-man and win. So those are areas that we want to continue to look and search and grow and get better."
When you go through free agency, is it like college recruiting?
"It's always about the money. If it's even — if it's even — it'll come down to coach, quarterback, what's your reputation as an organization."
Can anybody outspend you based on what cap space you have available?
"Yeah, because you can adjust. People can adjust the money, they can do whatever it takes. And then, I mean, you've watched, there comes a breaking point — I don't care who the player is — there's a point to where you've gotta be disciplined. Look: the locker room's always watching you. They're watching me just as hard as they're watching Frank, and you pay a large amount of money to a player, he's gotta come in there and earn it. Your best players, the ones who make the most money, have the most pressure on them, not from fans … no. From the locker room, because now they're expected to be your best worker, be your best teammate, be your best playmaker on gameday, those things. So it's all gotta fit. I mean, I always laugh when, 'Well you've gotta go sign all these guys,' but sometimes it just doesn't fit. It doesn't fit. And it's alright."
There's nothing worse than winning the one-day press conference because you signed somebody who couldn't play.
"It's always funny, because everybody feels good in March. But I promise you, when you start lining up and playing football in September, ownership is asking you, and then you're feeling like crap because you knew — you knew. And, look, are there some guys that I wished — we went down free agency road last year. We just couldn't find a match, financially, or the player decided to go somewhere else. That's OK. But we're going to remain disciplined in how we build this. I just think that when you take shots, you've gotta be right on those shots. And when you take them foolishly, now you're just burning money and you're hurting your locker room."
On how much the gut feeling factors in when he signs or picks a player:
"Your gut is the preparation and the work you've put in on him. If you've done the work … it's no different than taking a test. My son comes home with a "C," and I'll ask him, 'How much work did you (do); did you study? Did you do everything to prepare?' 'Well… .' 'You got a 'C' then. That's what you deserve.' Well it's no different than when you draft a player, when you sign a free agent: have you done the work, have you really dug in and uncovered every rock and watched the tape, studied the tape? That makes your gut feel a lot better. It's no different than you as a coach on making a call during the game; well you made the call based on your preparation and your gut felt damn good about it because you've done the work. Do the work, and then if it doesn't work, you were wrong."
On who is involved in personnel decisions, and how much of a role Jim Irsay plays into them:
"Ultimately it's me. But Frank's involved heavily. I mean, like, I'm not gonna shove a player down (his throat) — 'Hey, you're gonna coach this guy, Frank.' No. And same thing with Mr. Irsay. If it's a high-dollar player, we're gonna run everything by Jim and make sure that he understands what the plan is for the player, why we're signing him, why we're giving the amount of money we are. He's going to approve and defer to us at all points. He's going to ask questions — that's his right. And he's going to ask the right questions of why we're doing it and what's the plan for it. But ultimately it's me, but we're gonna vet it out from head coach, coordinator, position coach, and if there's a disagreement and I can't get everybody on the same page, we're just not doing it."
On how much of an emphasis he places on analytics:
"I do think it's important. And I do think it has a role — and I think it's always had a role. We used it in Kansas City, and John's (Dorsey) into it. John, he'll give you that 'Aw shucks,' you know, but hey, don't let him fool you. He's sly, now. He listens. But it's a tool, it's not the ultimate decision maker. People make the ultimate decision. It's just another tool for us to use to make better, accurate decisions. And I think the end game analytics is really good. I think they've always had it; I think people are being more aggressive because now the numbers are showing that, 'Here's how the numbers slant.' It's no different than being in Vegas when you're at the craps table and the odds are shifted; let's play the odds. And same in in-game decision making. And in personnel, I mean, look, we've used it all the way back to Chicago. There's some height, weight and speed perimeters that (affect) guys that play in the league, and when you start taking the exceptions to the rule, now you're going in the bottom percentile of what plays in the league. Like, if our analytics guys tell me, 'Hey Chris, this guy's in the bottom-10 percentile of his position for height, weight and speed,' well, the miss factor now is a lot greater; you're talking about a 90-percent miss factor with a player. Are there exceptions? Absolutely there are. But when you take those exceptions, they better have some unique quality that overplays it; instincts, competitive nature, there's gotta be something that puts them over the top that says they're gonna make it."
On if he's comfortable with the Colts' running back position:
"Yeah. I like our group. And we actually didn't get to see (Jonathan) Williams, the fourth (back); we just couldn't get him up. And we actually tried to sign him early in the season when Marlon (Mack) was hurt — Marlon was hurt the, what, first three, four games of the year — and we tried to get (Williams) … (New Orleans) cut him, we didn't have a spot on the roster, so we were trying to get him on our practice squad and thought we'd be able to move him Week 1 to play, and he ended up staying in New Orleans. And then when he hit the street again, we think he's got some talent, too. So between Marlon and (Nyheim) Hines and (Jordan) Wilkins and Williams, we think we've got a pretty good four set."
On why both he and the Colts are so often linked in media reports to big-name free agents:
"Well, agents are looking at our cap space and they're saying, 'Well, they'll spend it. They'll spend it.' Let me give you some background: so when I first took the job and we didn't know about Andrew, there were some free agents that we were going after, and their No. 1 question: 'Is Andrew Luck gonna play?' I said, 'Yeah, I just don't know when.' And it was an honest answer; 'I don't know when.' And they ended up going other places. I think great players want to play with other great players, and now that having Andrew back to playing at a high level, Frank Reich getting the culture that people are hearing about that we have, I mean I think that's an attractive thing for free agents."
On if he feels a strong locker room can effectively change a player with a history of issues elsewhere:
"I don't know if we're there yet. We're very young. We have a really good combination of veteran and youth leadership, and we have a guy in the building, Brian Decker, who I know you've probably heard his story — the military — he does a really good job helping develop the leadership with these younger guys. I don't know if we're quite there yet to really absorb (a troublesome player). I mean, you just look at my past: I go all the way back to Kingsville, Texas, where we had a team full of them … but we had a team full of players in Kingsville that they had problems and second, third, fourth chances that we took on. And we've gotta make sure as an organization, and then our team leadership's going to have to accept them, too. You know, ultimately we're going to make the decision, but they've got to be able to know that, 'Hey, we're bringing this guy in the building, and he's going to have to fit in, and he's got to understand he's got to fit in, but y'all are going to have to help him fit in.' I don't know if we're quite there yet. I think we're getting close, but I don't know if we're quite there yet."
How do you know when you're there?
"Good question. That's a gut one. That's a gut one. I think you continue to be around them. I do think we're in a better place than we were a year ago where I didn't think that the locker room understood what I was wanting out of them…"
…Can winning camouflage it a little bit?
"Absolutely it can. And you don't get blinded by … just because you win doesn't mean you have it right. You've gotta stay down the right path; you've gotta keep doing the right things all of the time. We're not taking a victory lap. I mean, come on, man. Nah. We ain't doing that. We're going to start over at square one. I mean, that's what you do every year. I mean, last year is over. Great year, good look back on when we're done. But that's over. Teams change. They just do, and every year is a new year, and I think the more leadership that we can continue to bring in the building, you won't have as much change — there's still going to be change; teams are different; every team's different; I mean, from year to year, from Week 1 to Week 8, teams are different — and we've gotta continue to bring those right guys in when we do. And when you get enough of them — in my mind, it's when you have 10 to 12 really core players who are leaders, understand what you're doing, understand, 'Hey, this is how we do business,' and then are not intimidated or scared to call other players out to do that — that's when I'll have a good feeling of knowing. We're getting there. It's funny; one of the first talks we had during training camp was, 'We go as you go as a locker room. Coaches can be great coaches, they're going to coach you hard every day, they're going to put you in a good position to win. But it doesn't matter, because you have to be able to police yourself. There has to be an intolerance for anything that gets in the way of winning, and if you allow somebody to do something that you know is wrong, that you know is going to affect us on Sunday, then you're at fault. You're as much at fault as he is. And you have to have that internal pressure to really be able to do something really special."
Because a lot of people still think, "Hey man, you line up with the best players — let's go:"
"That's not reality. It's still team football. I think it's the greatest team sport there is, because you're talking about 63 men all having to come together and all having to play a specific role. That was one of my issues walking in the building is it's not all about the quarterback. Hell yeah he's a good player, but a lot goes into winning, and not just him. Somebody's gotta block, somebody's gotta catch the ball, you still have to play defense, you still gotta get stops in the game, you still have to play special teams. All these things come into play. It ain't about one guy. It's just not."
On his personal take about the controversial pass interference no-call late in the NFC Championship Game:
"Bad call. Absolutely. It's part of the game."
Would you feel that way if it was against the Colts?
"Oh, I'd be pissed. Absolutely. I'd be just as pissed as they were, and I'd probably be calling for action and, 'We need to replay everything.' Nah, I mean, it was a bad call, and tell me this, and Matt (Conti) said this coming up: what if that play happened in the first quarter? And then how do we know? We don't know. Alright, let's say they do get the call — is the game over? 'Oh, the game's over.' No. …"
Do you win the game because of that call?
"No. The game's not over. And the game went into overtime. So there was a lot more to play … there was a lot more to have to play out. Like, I've got feelings about, like the Kansas City game with the overtime — I wouldn't change overtime. Stop 'em. Stop 'em."
Nobody's complaining about the overtime in the New Orleans game where the defense got a stop:
"Exactly. And then, do we want to replay? I think we're putting even more on the officials."
On if he likes replay or wants to see it expanded:
"No. I'd rather go back the other way…."
…Is replay making the officials worse?
"Yes. Absolutely it is. They've got Big Brother up watching them all of the time, and now you're scared to make a call. You're timid — 'Well, replay will catch it.' No. Let 'em work, and let 'em make the call."