PHOENIX – A 30-minute talk with Jim Irsay is sure to span several topics and provide candid insight into his football team.
That was the case on Monday afternoon, when Irsay met the media at the NFL's Annual League Meetings.
From the health of Andrew Luck to the remaining 2017 needs with the draft a month away, Irsay touched on a variety of matters regarding the Colts.
Here are nine takeaways from Irsay's time with the media on Monday:
1. Irsay Loving Ballard
The Owner was gushing about his new GM on Monday.
"I wish our fans could experience and see what a great job Chris is doing," Irsay said of Ballard's first two months on the job. "The type of energy, the type of vision, the type of wisdom, the type of tireless effort and passion that he has for the Horseshoe and where we are going."
Ballard is approaching the two-month anniversary of his hiring and it's clear Irsay loves what he's seen so far.
The relatability Ballard has at so many levels of the organization, and outside of it, has particularly struck Irsay.
A few weeks ago, Ballard had breakfast with Hall of Fame personnel man Bill Polian. When Polian later spoke with Irsay, the architect of the 2006 Super Bowl team had plenty of praise for Ballard.
"(Ballard) definitely has some Bill Polian in him, a Hall of Famer and a guy we think the world of," Irsay said. "(Ballard) definitely holds some of those long-held beliefs in the scouting world with that team-building aspect that he believes in.
"I just couldn't be more thrilled at seeing the strong traits that Chris has, watching him work. Also, the great relationships that he has in all aspects of the work that he does, whether it be sports agents, other general managers, college coaches, etc."2. Colts Very Willing To Trade Back
On several occasions Monday, Irsay spoke to how important the upcoming drafts are for the Colts.
Specifically, the Colts need to attract more talent through the drafts that lead to re-signings with the Colts.
Such players are absent on the defense right now.
That must change."When you sign those guys to their second contracts, who are really in their prime, that's what you're looking for," Irsay says.
In looking ahead to next month's NFL Draft, Irsay went out of his way to say the Colts are willing trade back partners, even with them already having an impressive seven selections in the first five rounds this year.
"We wouldn't hesitate to trade down and get a few more picks if we can," Irsay said. "That would be something that we think could really benefit us. We love obviously to deal with our lack of pass rush and get some real edge rushers that can make a difference. At the same time, the needs are many. We no question need a young corner and we would love to be able to, in the end, come away (with a running back).
"We're also looking to try to accumulate as many draft picks as we can. I don't think we'd hesitate trading down if the situation was right in certain rounds to try to get a few more picks."
3. Goal Is Lombardi's
In case there was any doubt, Irsay cleared up what the objective is for the Colts going forward.
Since 1999, the Colts have been under .500 in just two seasons.
It's an incredible run of consistent winning.
But Irsay reiterated on Monday that he wants to be at the top of the mountain, not just always seemingly near the peak.
"I'd rather have a chance to win two Lombardi's and have a losing season or two than just be 8-8 or 9-7 and win no Lombardi's," Irsay said.
"It's about greatness, about championships."
4. No Rushing Luck Back
The Colts are going to be patient with Andrew Luck's return to full action this offseason, after he had right shoulder surgery back in January.
If that means adding another QB to join Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris, so be it.
Luck continues to heal and Irsay said on Monday that "everything is progressing like we would hope."
Irsay did bring up an interesting point on how impressive Luck's 2016 season was, given the weekly challenge the quarterback faced in just being ready each Sunday.
"I don't think people realized how much he had to work to get ready to play each week," Irsay said of Luck last season. "I think this (surgery) is going to be a huge benefit in the long run.
"We really feel that he's going to be completely healed for the season and he's going to have a great season. This is a positive thing because like I said he really had to work hard last year and it was very mentally draining to get ready. Again, the surgery went great. The labrum, the bicep was pristine. There was no problem there. Things could not have gone better, up to this point, from a medical standpoint."
5. Looking Back On Past Gambles
A trio of 11-win seasons to start the serious rebuild the Colts went under following the 2011 season really sped up the process for Ryan Grigson and company.
"We did some amazing things in terms of how much success we had quickly," Irsay said of making the AFC Championship in 2014. "But I do think there was some real risks taken, some gambles that were made to get us all the way over that hump that just didn't pay off. And we kept hanging in there trying to hope we could do it, adding some players right at the end of their careers, some big-name players who we thought could help us."
Ballard has been doing his part in trying to turn the page on some of those risks and gambles. Since the end of the 2016 season, a total of seven defenders (all starters or major contributors) at least 29 years of age are no longer with the Colts.
That leads to the next major point from Irsay.
6. Get Younger, Faster
The similar theme that Chris Ballard and Chuck Pagano were singing at last month's Combine was again coming out of Jim Irsay's mouth on Monday.
This relates directly to the defensive side of the ball, where the Colts ranked 30th last season.
"I think we can play defense better than we did last year," Irsay said on Monday. "Obviously last year was 8-8, so automatically, if your offense is humming and you're playing better defense, you've got to figure we have a chance to do something decent this year."
A total of six new faces have joined the defense in free agency. More are coming in next month's draft.
Think faster, younger, whatever it takes to get some new blood for Ted Monachino's unit.
"If we have to simplify things to do that, then we realize that's something we're going to do so we can achieve what we want to do," Irsay said.
"We are really looking to improve the defense and that's about really adding speed. That's the No. 1 component to it."
Finding more talent at pass rusher and at cornerback is a draft key for the Colts.7. Colts Active In Free Agency, Refrains Temptation
The Colts have signed 10 free agents in 2017, two more than any other year in franchise history.
But they restrained themselves from getting into any high-price bidding wars this past month.
Fine with Irsay.
"You get close to signing a guy, you put a number on him and you say, 'Well, we can go another million per year, put some incentives in it…,' but I think that's one thing that Chris and I have talked about that we think is important---set certain parameters and be disciplined enough to walk away," Irsay said.
"I've said this before through the decades: Sometimes the best deals you make are the ones you don't make. It takes discipline to hold back and not make those deals sometimes because obviously you want to build excitement and you want everybody to be talking about your guys and the things that you've done."
Irsay knows that dabbling in free agency was needed this offseason. However, the real building defensively must come through hitting on draft picks.8. Offense Keeping Colts A Contender
With Andrew Luck healthy in 2017, the Colts have a chance.
Perhaps a bit of a surprise to some, Irsay thinks the offensive line group, with several young pieces, is a unit he feels good about.
"The offense is pretty darn mature at areas where you have to be, quarterback and offensive line," Irsay said. "I think we can put points up on the board."
While the defense received much of the focus from Irsay on Monday, he did mention one area to upgrade on the offensive side of the ball.
A future running back to take over for Frank Gore should be coming in the middle-to-later rounds of this year's draft.
"We're going to look to find someone young (at running back)," Irsay said.9. Pagano Judged On More Than Just Wins
When a new general manager comes on board and the head coach stays, questions pick up on how that relationship will evolve.
Irsay explained on Monday how himself and Chris Ballard will evaluate Pagano this season.
"It's going to be based on us really looking at, seeing if some of the areas we felt he had to improve upon to get to that next level," Irsay said of Pagano, "to become that coach who is going to be around 10, 12, 14 years as a head coach in this league.
"Honestly, I think it's really about seeing how we are getting the best players on the field and really doing the type of smart things that really make you sit back and say, 'Hey, I don't know if Chuck would have done that three or four years ago. I see growth there.' We believe he has that ability to learn to grow."
There will not be a hardline win total for Pagano to achieve in 2017 for the Colts to continue to move forward with him.
"Chris and I are going to be evaluating (Pagano's) progress in a lot of different ways." Irsay said. "A lot of it depends on the health of your team and just the way you feel like you are trending and you are playing."*
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