Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard: 'Consequences' for players unvaccinated against COVID-19

INDIANAPOLIS -- Colts general manager Chris Ballard reiterated Wednesday that he is a firm believer that everybody should get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Ballard, in his annual media session before the start of the regular season, spent a significant amount of time answering questions about a number of his players not being vaccinated after quarterback Carson Wentz, center Ryan Kelly and receiver Zach Pascal were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday after coming in close contact with a Colts staff member who tested positive.

Wentz, Kelly and Pascal can return to facility on the sixth day after the close contact if they have negative tests and remain asymptomatic. The fact that the three players were placed on the list as close contacts is an indication they are not vaccinated for the coronavirus as, per NFL protocols, vaccinated players would be placed on the list only for a positive test result.

"There's consequences to not being vaccinated," Ballard said. "Do I think everybody should be vaccinated? Absolutely. I'm for the vaccine. [Coach] Frank [Reich] is for the vaccine. We have a lot of guys on our team who are for the vaccine. Is it 100% perfect? No. But it's a good thing.

"It can help you from ending up in the hospital in a critical situation. And it helps stop some of the spread, and those are positive things. But for the guys who have chosen to not get vaccinated, they still understand they're still part of this team, it's their decision, but they're still part of our team and they have to take care of the team."

The Colts have had one of the lowest percentages of vaccinated players in the NFL. Ballard declined to say what that percentage is currently after trimming the roster down to 53 players Tuesday. Many players, including Wentz, have declined to say if they're vaccinated or why they chose not to be vaccinated.

"Look, I can beat my head against the wall," Ballard said. "I can go in there and raise all kinds of hell and go off. That's not how we roll. I believe in our guys. I believe in what they stand for and I'll stand by them. We'll continue to work on the vaccinations. It's not like we're done educating. ... But they understand they have to take care of the protocols at hand and they have to live by them. And we'll do that at the best of the ability we can do it."

The Colts have been hit hard with players placed on the COVID-19 list since the start of training camp. They removed guard Quenton Nelson from the list Monday after he was in close contact with somebody who tested positive. Left tackle Eric Fisher, who is recovering from a torn Achilles, was placed on the COVID-19 list Aug. 26. Cornerback T.J. Carrie, offensive lineman Julien Davenport, defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad and cornerback Xavier Rhodes have also spent time on the list. Reich and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus tested positive for COVID-19 at different points in training camp.

The Colts, like every team in the league, will have to adjust on the fly if a player is forced to miss time due to the pandemic. No player will be under more scrutiny than Wentz, whom the Colts acquired from Philadelphia during the offseason, because of his unvaccinated status. He's coming off a season where he lost his starting job with the Eagles and he has participated in only five practices -- full and individual -- since the start of training camp due to left foot surgery on Aug. 2.

"He's worked his butt off, been a good teammate," Ballard said. "When the foot thing happened. I could see the frustration, but also saw another look. 'I'm playing. Let's get [the bone out] and let's go to work.' That's a good thing."

A player who won't be back anytime soon is receiver T.Y. Hilton. The veteran recently had surgery to address a disk injury. The Colts plan to put him on the injured reserve list, which means he'll miss at least the first three regular-season games. Hilton aggravated the injury in practice Aug. 25.

Hilton, 31, has been the Colts' No. 1 receiver throughout his nine seasons in Indianapolis, which include five 1,000-yard campaigns.

"He has a ton of relief, feels better," Ballard said. "One thing about T.Y. is, he's a pretty quick healer. I think he'll be back whenever he's ready to go. Always sooner rather than later with him."