Locker Room Culture Remains Critical As Colts Begin Free Agent Discussions

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INDIANAPOLIS — Chris Ballard likens his general approach to free agency to golf.

Over the next few weeks, Ballard and his personnel staff — as well as head coach Frank Reich and his staff — will begin having discussions, both internally and externally, about the possibility of adding potential free agents or trade targets to their roster.

The internal discussions will include topics such as scheme fit and potential salary cap ramifications. But the external discussions — ones in which the Colts begin to really dig for information on a player — are perhaps even more important.

As Ballard enters his third year as the Colts’ general manager, he’s made one thing crystal clear: he’s not going to haphazardly sign or trade for a player without first considering the impact he would make on the locker room.

So, as Ballard says, the “key to all this is information — who gets the most accurate information?”

“You have to be accurate, and getting to the truth, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to shift through it,” Ballard said last week in an appearance on “The Dan Dakich Show” on 1070 The Fan. “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.”

The Colts have entered this offseason with what is being reported as the most salary cap space in the National Football League, leading to the assumption by many outsiders that the team will be heavily involved in the pursuit of some of the biggest of names set to hit the open market at the start of the new league year on March 13.

That salary cap figure also leaves open the possibility of the Colts trading for a big-name player, and then signing them to a long-term deal.

But while Ballard said he’s certainly not against bringing in a “difference maker” — “I would absolutely add that player,” he said — he won’t risk damaging his team’s culture, which has been well-established after Reich’s successful first year as head coach, to do so.

“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,” Ballard said. “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,” he continued. “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.”

Ballard has utilized free agency his first two years in Indy to mostly bring in players coming off their first contracts who are looking for expanded roles as they begin to hit their primes — guys like Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt, Eric Ebron and Denico Autry. The bulk of the roster, meanwhile, is being built through the draft; 17 of the Colts’ 19 draft picks over the last two years remain on the team, and the Colts currently have nine more picks in this April’s draft.

That formula seems as if it’s here to stay as Ballard enters his third offseason shaping this roster.

“We put a value on a player and when it gets out of our reach I just think we are comfortable enough to sleep at night saying we are going to find an answer,” Ballard said Jan. 14 in his end-of-season press conference. “Sometimes it might not be the household name that everybody wants us to sign and that’s okay. I get it. But we are going to find an answer, whether it’s in that first window of free agency, maybe it’s the second window, maybe it’s the draft, maybe it’s after the draft, maybe it’s at the cut-down day.

“We will continue to explore. We will explore every avenue,” Ballard continued. “If we think from a free agent standpoint that we are going to go get one of the high-priced (players) – we have a very strict criteria that he’s going to have to fit. He’s going to have to fit in the locker room. He’s going to have to earn the high salary that he’s making not only with his play, but with his impact and his presence within the locker room.”

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