INDIANAPOLIS — It always felt good to get a good grade back in school, didn't it?
With the first non-football part of the offseason in the rearview mirror and OTAs and veteran minicamps going on around the league, some are beginning to assign grades as well as declare winners and losers of the NFL offseason.
In Year 3 of the Chris Ballard era for the Indianapolis Colts, the general manager and his team appear to have earned high marks for their latest offseason work.
Mike Sando of ESPN recently released his offseason grades for all 32 teams, and the Colts come in with the top spot:
The Colts entered the offseason with more than $100 million in salary-cap space. They resisted the most expensive players in the market, instead landing pass-rusher Justin Houston and receiver Devin Funchess to short-term deals (two years for Houston, one for Funchess).
Indy then traded back 20 spots in the draft, moving down from the 26th overall spot. The Colts emerged with three second-round choices for the second year in a row, apparently figuring the difference between the 26th and 46th choices wasn't large enough to justify standing pat.
'There is a clarity, a vision and a discipline to what they are doing,' an exec said. 'They know what they want to be and they are disciplined in executing the plan. One thing about Indy is, the owner [Jim Irsay] knows football, has a strong desire to win and will support that financially, particularly now that everyone is on the same page.'
One exec said he was optimistic as to how Houston would fit with the Colts, on the theory that the scheme in Kansas City was broken, and former Chiefs exec Chris Ballard, now the GM in Indy, would have a good feel for the situation.
'What's really striking about the Colts is how they have revamped their team in the trenches,' an evaluator said. 'That has gone from weakness to strength in two years. That is where you see what true talent evaluators can do. You saw it with Washington when [Scot] McCloughan was there and you see it now in Indy.'"
As you can see, it's not just Sando singing the praises of the job that Ballard & Co. have done this offseason (the last couple, really); they're also earning respect from decision makers around the NFL.
The Colts were among the flushest teams, cash-wise, when free agency began this offseason, but they refused to walk down Santa Monica Boulevard and come away with a dozen shopping bags full of designer goods, so to speak.
Instead, the Colts made calculated, sensible moves while also investing heavily in their own players, re-signing or extending important players like cornerback Pierre Desir, safety Clayton Geathers, guard Mark Glowinski and defensive tackle Margus Hunt. They even made sure to lock up five of their arguably most important special teamers to new deals — gunner Chris Milton, long snapper Luke Rhodes, receiver/punt returner Chester Rogers, punter/holder/kickoff specialist Rigoberto Sanchez and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
The Colts weren't entirely reserved, however, also signing free agent wide receiver Devin Funchess and defensive end Justin Houston. Funchess adds an element to the Colts' offense that they haven't had in quite some time, which is a lengthy, playmaking receiver with a huge catch radius. Houston is a former All-Pro and perennial Pro Bowler who wreaks havoc coming off the edge.
The Colts were fortunate not to lose much in free agency, as players such as wide receivers Ryan Grant and Dontrelle Inman, safety Mike Mitchell and defensive tackle Al Woods showed value in their roles with the Colts, but do have quality replacements on the roster.
When it comes to the draft, the Colts were even more impressive. They appear to have made several solid picks, adding a ton of speed and athleticism to the roster — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
They entered the 2019 NFL Draft with nine selections, and after doing some wheeling and dealing, wound up making 10 selections. In total, they were involved in five trades in order to move around and gather the players that they coveted. They were also able to add a second-round pick for the 2020 draft, which will give them multiple second-rounders yet again next year.
In selecting Rock Ya-Sin, the Colts got an eventual outside starting corner who is sticky in coverage and makes plays consistently. In fact, he was involved in a takeaway during live drills in the first two OTA practices that were open to the media. Both Khari Willis and Marvell Tell III are high-potential defensive backs; Willis as a versatile, field-general safety and Tell as a former safety with all the size and athleticism in the world who is transitioning to corner.
The defensive front seven got a lot of love with Ben Banogu and Gerri Green providing the always-needed assistance as pass rushers, and Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed competing at off-ball linebacker, primarily between the MIKE and WILL positions.
It's second-round receiver Parris Campbell who is garnering the most attention, however. The potential of what could become of him in Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni's offense while taking passes from Andrew Luck is too much to ignore.
"Winning the offseason" doesn't always mean signing the best players in free agency like is often mentioned. For teams like the Colts, it's sticking to the plan of how you intend to build and maintain your roster and organization.
By signing, drafting and developing their own players and then re-signing them, it proves to the locker room that if you play the right way and are good in the locker room then you will be rewarded.
On the surface, the 2019 offseason looks like the latest huge piece of a puzzle that is designed to build long term success for the Colts franchise.