INDIANAPOLIS — After a decorated year on the field for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, it's no longer just their players winning awards this postseason.
On Thursday, the Professional Football Writers of America announced that Colts general manager Chris Ballard was voted by its members as the 2018 NFL Executive of the Year.
The rise to such recognition in 2018 started the year prior, however.
Although the Colts struggled to finish out games as a team in 2017, finishing with a 4-12 record, Ballard — then a rookie general manager — helped set the franchise up well for the future by acquiring veterans who could play at a high level immediately, while also supplementing the roster with quality, young talent.
In 2018, he took his game to the next level.
While the year didn't get off to the most ideal of starts after Josh McDaniels backed out of an agreement to become the team's new head coach, Ballard more than recovered by hiring Frank Reich, who would reward the team by turning himself into a top candidate for the NFL’s Coach of the Year award, leading the team to the playoffs after starting the season with a 1-5 record.
Ballard’s 2018 NFL Draft, meanwhile, was one of the best overall hauls the NFL has seen in a while. Before the draft, he made a trade with the New York Jets to send the Colts’ No. 3 overall pick to New York for its No. 6 overall pick, two 2018 second-round picks and a 2019 second-rounder.
Ballard’s first two picks — No. 6 overall pick Quenton Nelson and No. 36 overall pick Darius Leonard — would become the first rookie teammates to be named First-Team All-Pro since Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers with the Chicago Bears in 1965. Nelson, Leonard and No. 37-overall pick Braden Smith have all made just about any 2018 All-Rookie Team that you can find.
All 11 draft picks in 2018 remain with the team — as well as three of their original undrafted free agent signings — and most of them either contributed heavily as rookies or even became regular starters.
When free agency came around, the noise from outside got loud as the Colts refused to blindly throw their large sum of cap space at free agents that didn’t fit their locker room culture, their schemes or with players who demanded too much over their positional budget.
Ballard & Co. stuck to their convictions and came out with some major free agency wins, however, landing standouts like Denico Autry and Eric Ebron; Ebron led all NFL tight ends in touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl, while Autry led the team with 9.0 sacks and became a Pro Bowl alternate.
However, some of the Colts’ in-season free-agent pickups were just as important — guys like Dontrelle Inman and Mike Mitchell.
“I have learned he’s a man of high character, a man of integrity, a straight shooter,” Reich said of Ballard. “That’s what I love most about Chris (Ballard). He does not hesitate to tell you the truth, but he just has a good way of doing it. I really appreciate him a lot.
“I have leaned on him a lot in my first year,” Reich continued. “Obviously, that relationship is very key between the two of us and it’s one that I think the chemistry is about as good as it can be. I trust him implicitly with everything. I think he’s top notch in every way.”
Ballard represents the fifth Colts general manager to take home the PFWA's NFL Executive of the Year award since its inception in 1993, and joins Bill Polian (1999, 2005, 2009) and Ryan Grigson (2012).