INDIANAPOLIS -- The first month on the job as the Indianapolis Colts' general manager has been a nonstop cram session for Chris Ballard.
The first-time GM has been in countless meetings with his staff and he’s watched hours of video of last year’s team, free agents and draft prospects. The goal is to get the Colts back to respectability after they missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons following their AFC Championship Game appearance in 2014.
Based on the way Ballard talked Wednesday, you shouldn’t expect him to have a quick fix when it comes to improving the roster.
“I know we all want instant coffee right now," Ballard said. “But that’s not reality. It takes time to build a team. It takes time to build a locker room. Those guys gotta grow together and come together. I don’t know any championship team that didn’t have a great locker room and grow together. It’s just hard to throw people into the locker room and expect a winner. It doesn’t work that way."
Ballard’s approach is the opposite of how former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson looked at things. Grigson took a quick-fix approach. That is why Ballard has his hands full in trying improve a roster that featured aging defensive players and players that were given more playing time than they deserved.
Ballard repeatedly has said he wants a roster that's competitive from the best player to the last player on the practice squad. He doesn’t believe in a top-heavy roster; if an injury happens to one of the Colts' best players, he wants them to still have a chance to be successful.
“We are always trying to create competition,” Ballard said. “Players have to earn it and the way you make them earn it is by creating competition at every position every year. So we are going to always be digging looking for talent. No matter if we had just won the Super Bowl, it doesn’t matter -- you start over. It doesn’t change. You are continuing to look better. You are trying to get better talent in the building at all times.”
Ballard isn’t using the Colts’ roster flaws -- the 30th-ranked defense needs an overhaul -- as an excuse if the team struggles. He knows the challenge that lies ahead of him, and he also knows it’s about wins and losses in the big picture. The Colts are coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons.
“I’m not going to set unrealistic goals," Ballard said. “Look, every year is precious. Every year is an opportunity to win. To me, there’s no such thing as rebuilding. Everybody’s trying to win, and that’s the approach we’ll take."
The Colts will have around $60 million in salary cap space once free agency begins March 9.The goal is to build the roster with his own players through the draft, but Ballard may should to point out he has no problem signing outside free agents. He doesn’t plan to just sign any free agents, though. Ballard has a checklist that includes that player being a good fit in the locker room, a good fit in their scheme, a hard worker and he has to buy in to what the organization is trying to do.
“I’ll give you my thoughts because I don’t want to create the misconception that we are never going to hit free agency. That’s not right,” Ballard said. “What I am going to say though is when we do dip into free agency and sign other players we have to be right on the player we sign.”