INDIANAPOLIS -- The thought of the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots teaming up for anything seemed unimaginable some three years ago. Not after former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson raised eyebrows around the NFL when he questioned the amount of air the Patriots used in footballs during the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015.
Deflategate was talked about until Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed his four-game suspension in 2016.
Grigson exited, Chris Ballard entered as general manager of the Colts and all is well between them and New England. That became evident when Ballard made two trades with the Patriots, and now he's on the brink of hiring their offensive coordinator to be the team's next head coach.
This all happened in less than a year.
Barring a change of mind between the two parties, the Colts are expected to hire Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has been one of the top head coaching candidates in each of the past few offseasons, as Chuck Pagano's replacement once New England's season ends after the AFC Championship Game this weekend or the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.
That's how much things have changed for the Colts under Ballard.
One of the biggest reasons why those moves have been able to be made is because Ballard, according to ESPN's Seth Wickersham, reached out to Patriots coach Bill Belichick to help repair the relationship between the two teams following Deflategate.
McDaniels, who is about to accept his second head coaching position, is expected to pair with Ballard going forward. The two are working under the impression that they'll have quarterback Andrew Luck, the main attraction for any coaching candidate, ready for next season as long as he continues to progress in his right shoulder rehabilitation. Luck said last month that he expected to take part in the team's offseason workouts in April.
McDaniels will be Luck's best offensive coach since Bruce Arians was the Colts' offensive coordinator/interim coach for 12 games in Luck's rookie season of 2012. McDaniels has been the playcaller on two of New England's Super Bowl championship teams. It'll be three if the Patriots win the Super Bowl this season.
The first sign that Ballard had success fixing things between the Colts and Patriots was when he sent underachieving tight end Dwayne Allen to New England for a fourth-round pick last March. The Patriots and Colts made their second deal in a six-month span when New England sent quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis for receiver Phillip Dorsett, the team's first-round pick in 2015.
Brissett was supposed to be the short-term starter for the first few weeks of the season until Luck returned but ended up starting 15 games (3,098 yards, 13 TDs passing) because Luck missed the entire season because of his continuing shoulder problems. The Colts now know they have insurance if Luck isn't ready for next season in Brissett, who spent his rookie season with McDaniels in New England.
These things probably would not have happened had Grigson, considered one of the biggest enemies to the Patriots' organization, was still running the Colts. Not with Grigson telling the NFL that he wanted the Colts to "play on an even playing field" during the Deflategate saga. Not with Patriots owner Robert Kraft telling a Boston radio station last year that the AFC Championship Game and Deflategate three years ago "might have been Ryan's pinnacle, I don't know" after the former general manager was fired in January 2017.
Grigson has been gone for almost a year, and with Ballard spearheading things, the differences between the two teams have been pushed to the side. Now the Colts are closing in on landing their next head coach -- a coach who has spent a total of 14 years, including nine as offensive coordinator, with the Patriots organization.