PHOENIX – The Colts are not alone one month before the 2023 NFL Draft. They're searching for a long-term solution at quarterback, just like plenty of other teams around the league.
But general manager Chris Ballard also is not backed into a corner where the only escape is to draft a quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick. He feels good about the position the Colts are in, which could result in standing pat, trading up, trading down, drafting a quarterback, etc., depending on where the team's evaluation process guides them in the coming weeks.
That doesn't mean there isn't urgency to find that guy, though. It just has to be the right player.
"I think anytime, if you don't feel like you have (a quarterback) that can absolutely change the franchise in terms of leading you every year, I think you're always going to feel some pressure to get that player and I don't think it's any different for any team in the league," Ballard said. "And now, whether we need to take one at four – if the right one's there for us that we feel good about, then we'll do it."
"If" is an operative word in that last sentence. But if the right quarterback isn't there at No. 4, that doesn't mean the right quarterback could still be available later in the draft.
"Everybody talks about the top 4, but there's some more guys out there — pretty good players," Ballard said. "And I think history has shown here, especially in the last few years with Jalen (Hurts) being one, Brock Purdy coming in and playing really well. They come in every level. We'll do our work on every one of them and at the end of the day we'll try to get one that we like and fits us and we think we can win with."
Here are a few other things we learned from Ballard on Monday at the Arizona Biltmore during the NFL Annual Meeting:
Why the Colts didn't trade up to No. 1
The quote: "Didn't want to make a blind decision without all the information," Ballard said. "I know for people, they might not understand that. But I think history kind of tells you that when you do that, you better know what you're getting. And we weren't quite ready to do that at that time. And then we feel like there's enough depth in the draft that we were gonna be okay."
Context: The Carolina Panthers earlier in March acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft from the Chicago Bears in exchange for picks Nos. 9 and 61 in this year's draft, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-round pick and wide receiver D.J. Moore.
The Colts have studied the tape on the quarterbacks available in this year's draft, but when that trade was agreed to, they hadn't had an opportunity to spend much time with those prospects.
"Carolina, give them credit," Ballard said. "They feel like they've done their work, they felt like they were able to do it and they made the move."
Inside the Stephon Gilmore trade
The quote: "There's not many like Stephon Gilmore," Ballard said. "He's a really special man and his family, so that was not easy. But to clear the cap space, we found a good situation for him, we felt like we got fair compensation in return, so we ended up making the move."
Context: Beyond the compensation (a 2023 fifth-round pick, No. 179 overall, from the Dallas Cowboys), Ballard said the Colts are confident in the talent and upside possessed by a couple of the team's young cornerbacks: Dallis Flowers and Isaiah Rodgers Sr. And with Kenny Moore II in the cornerback room, Ballard felt like trading Gilmore was the right move for the Colts. Which brings us to...
The future for Ryan Kelly and Kenny Moore II
The quote: "They're both great Colts," Ballard said. "And we're glad they're here. We had some calls on them, but at the end of the day they're good football players for us and they're good people. When you got a good football player that is a great person and a good fit, it makes it hard to move away from those guys. Right now they're Colts and in the foreseeable future I see them being Colts."
Context: The Colts' offensive line, collectively, didn't play up to its standard in 2022, and Moore was frustrated he finished his season without an interception for the first time in his six-year career. But both Kelly and Moore earned Pro Bowl selections in their time with the Colts, and both fit the team's plans in 2023.
On Lamar Jackson
The quote: "Any time a special player is available, which he is, you've got to do the work," Ballard said. "And that's where -- I'm not going to get into deep discussions on where it's at or what we're doing or what we might do. But I'll tell you he's a really good player, really special player. But you never know how any of this will work out."
Context: The Baltimore Ravens used the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, meaning any team could sign him to an offer sheet – one which the Ravens would have an opportunity to match.
"Any time at that position when you got a chance to acquire a guy, you got to do your work on it to see if it's doable," Ballard said. "Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not."
Free agency addition: Gardner Minshew
The quote: "It'll be a good competition," Ballard said. "I have a lot of faith in Shane (Steichen), just the little time we've been together, whatever the quarterback can do, he's going to put him in position to be successful. So adding a guy that is familiar with the offense of what he's done in the past and who's had some success for him, and that combined with Sam (Ehlinger) going forward gives us two young players that we'll continue to develop and as we move forward we'll see what happens.
Context: Minshew played the last two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and worked with Steichen there. The Colts signed him as a free agent earlier this month.
Free agency additions: Taven Bryan and Samson Ebukam
The quote: "We added some depth on the D-line, which we thought was critical," Ballard said. "Getting Samson and getting Taven, a backup three-technique to give (DeForest) Buckner a break. Samson, who we think fits schematically what we do really well."
Context: Buckner is remarkably durable – he's played over 75 percent of his team's defensive snaps in all seven of his seasons in the NFL. But the Colts like Bryan's upside and fit to rotate in with Buckner, with an eye on keeping their standout defensive tackle as fresh as possible throughout the season. Ebukam played in a similar attack-oriented scheme with the San Francisco 49ers the last two seasons and will slide into a similar role at defensive end for the Colts in 2023.
Free agent signing: Matt Gay
The quote: "Getting Matt Gay, we think he can be a real weapon," Ballard said. "We saw it back in '20 — we saw it in practice."
Context: Gay was on the Colts' practice squad for about two months during the 2020 season. The Los Angeles Rams signed him to their active roster that November, but Gay made a strong impression on the Colts during his time in Indianapolis – an impression that Ballard felt benefitted the team when he hit free agency.