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GM Chris Ballard will take methodical approach to improving Colts roster

INDIANAPOLIS -- Frugal may be a stretch in describing Colts general manager Chris Ballard's approach to free agency.

But be warned, the days of the Indianapolis Colts swinging and hoping to connect on the free-agent market will be reduced. Ballard, hired to replace Ryan Grigson, believes in developing his own players instead of spending top dollars on the outside market.

"You want to raise your own," Ballard said. "We want to be a great drafting team. We want to have a sound structure and foundation in place where we're producing players every year. You have to. You have to have at least three or four guys who are going to help you every year."

Ballard saw firsthand what it's like to "raise your own" during his four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. They excelled at developing their players through the draft, as each of their last three first-round picks have been key contributors for the Chiefs.

That's good news and a fresh approach for Indianapolis.

The Colts, starting in 2013, took a very aggressive approach in free agency.

Do these names ring a bell?

LaRon Landry. Donald Thomas. Gosder Cherilus. Art Jones. Hakeem Nicks.

And then there was the disastrous free-agency class of 2015 that feature Andre Johnson, Nate Irving and Todd Herremans when the Colts were trying to make a run at the Super Bowl after reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2014.

There was too much money spent and not enough results out of the high-priced free agents the Colts signed.

"What's happened here a little bit, and it's a natural thing, when Ryan and Chuck (Pagano) came in in '12, through the veterans that were here and had won so much, it really got a mantra going with Andrew (Luck) and everything that 'Hey, we're going to win now, man -- now,'" owner Jim Irsay said. "Not in 2014 or something, in 2012 we're going to win. All of a sudden, that type of press energy came on and we started acquiring older veteran players through free agency and tried to plug a lot of holes with guys that did not work out or were short-term answers.

"I think Chris will show the same trait that (former general manager) Bill (Polian) had. It's something that his belief also obviously is those picks three to five, if you can have more of those picks the better. If you can acquire more picks, if you can trade down sometimes to get another three, four or five and you can have sometimes 10, 11 picks instead of seven or six, that can be really helpful."

The Colts will have more than $50 million in salary cap space and they're desperate to fix the many holes in their defense, but Ballard won't be going to Irsay and asking his boss to open his check book to overspend on a free agent.

"We're excited about where we're going in terms of building for the long-term, looking at the draft, being smart and selective in free agency," Irsay said. "We think it's going to be a really exciting year, but one thing we talked about is look, I'd rather have a down year or two and win a couple Lombardis than just never have a non-losing season and never win Lombardis. We're about world championships. That's what we've always been about here."

Ballard pointed out that having a strong defense will be key going forward. He said he already has the list of unrestricted free agents. How many of those that he attempts to sign will likely be limited, though.

"We'll get into free agency a little bit but, like I said, you can't buy a locker room," Ballard said. "You have to be very careful when you enter free agency. But we're going to try to acquire as many players as you can and have a competitive roster. We want the most competitive roster we can get. That's how you become great."