INDIANAPOLIS -- Offseason No. 1 was centered around cleaning house by replacing the older players with younger, hungrier ones for Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard.
Offseason No. 2 has arrived, and for Ballard it’s no longer about simply cleaning house again. It’s about using the more than $70 million in salary-cap space and the seven draft picks, including No. 3 overall, to ensure they have the proper players on the field to avoid another 4-12 season. The next step in that process officially begins on Wednesday when free agents can be signed.
Ballard isn’t delusional. He knows the task that he’s about to face when it comes to getting back on track.
The Colts have the third-most cap space, but don’t expect Ballard to act like he’s going Christmas shopping with an unlimited budget. Free agency isn’t the approach the general manager wants to take in trying to improve the roster.
“Look, you can’t build a sustained winner -- one that lasts over time -- through free agency,” Ballard said last month. “You can’t do it. You’ve gotta draft your own players. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta draft and develop and then stack drafts, one, two, three drafts on top of each other where these guys are homegrown Colts.”
Seven draft picks isn’t going to fix the Colts’ problems. Ballard will have to try to “supplement” players through free agency until he’s able to build the roster through the draft. One of the reasons the Colts are in their current predicament is because of the number of failed draft picks by the previous regime of former general manager Ryan Grigson.
Grigson's preference was to try to fill holes on the roster in free agency, which often meant overpaying players that were more likely on the tail end of their careers, instead of building it through the draft. Ballard is the complete opposite. He’s steadfast in making sure their roster consists of as many players that they drafted as possible. He wants to draft so well that they’ll be in position to give those players at least their second contracts.
The Colts drafted 30 players from 2012-15. Only receiver T.Y. Hilton, defensive lineman Henry Anderson, safety Clayton Geathers, offensive lineman Denzelle Good and quarterback Andrew Luck are currently under contract for next season. They didn’t have any players from the 2013 draft class on the roster last season. They won’t have any members of their 2014 draft class left if they don’t re-sign offensive lineman Jack Mewhort or receiver Donte Moncrief during free agency. The Colts didn’t have a first-round pick in 2014 and their first-round pick in 2015, receiver Phillip Dorsett, was traded before Week 1 last season. There are six of eight picks from the 2016 draft still on the roster, with the verdict still out on second-round pick T.J. Green.
That brings us back to free agency. The Colts have holes -- a lot of them, in fact -- on the roster. They'll work to start filling some of them this week. Just don't be upset if there aren't that many headline-making moves made. That hasn't been and won't be Ballard's approach anytime soon.