Measured approach to free agency all part of Colts' offseason plan

Colts owner Jim Irsay, center, gives GM Chris Ballard, right, a lot of credit for his disciplined approach to free agency. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS -- This isn’t what some wanted to see from the Indianapolis Colts through the first few days of NFL free agency.

The first wave has come and gone and the Colts aren’t one of the teams that have people buzzing. In fact, the opposite has happened -- nobody is talking about them.


Because they've signed only two players since the new NFL year started March 17 -- running back Marlon Mack to a one-year, $2 million contract and defensive end Isaac Rochell to a one-year $2.5 million deal.

The Colts still have needs at pass-rusher, offensive tackle, receiver and cornerback while entering free agency with the fourth-most cap space in the league.

But this shouldn’t be surprising to those who have paid attention to general manager Chris Ballard’s approach to free agency since he was hired in the winter of 2017.

Ballard doesn’t look at free agency as a race out of the gates with other teams trying to fork over a lot of money for the marquee free agents.

That’s not Ballard's style.

He takes a very methodical approach to free agency that might not be exciting but is well thought out by him and his staff.

“I think the great thing Chris does is he walks away from deals,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said. “Sometimes your best deals are the ones you don’t make. And he has that sort of discipline. He’ll go to a certain point, but we’ll talk in great detail about where we’re at ... [and] more often than not I’ll put a sweetener in there and he’ll say, ‘No, let’s stay where we are. That’s what this deal should be.’

“And I really give him a lot of credit, because believe me, for general managers it’s really hard to find a guy like that who’s really disciplined when you’re right at the eleventh Hour, trying to pull off a big [signing] and you’re trying to do it and your head coach wants you to do it and your owner wants to do it and you say, ‘No, let’s stay pat, we’ll be OK.’ I think that’s what makes him a great general manager.”

Part of the reason the Colts haven’t been overly aggressive so far is their awareness that the time is coming to give second contracts to players such as linebacker Darius Leonard and offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. The price tag on those contracts won’t be cheap, either.

The Colts are fine with that because those players were drafted by them. If anything, it just shows how well Ballard and his staff drafted and shows he’s sticking to his plan of developing homegrown talent.

“It’s never going to be a question of, ‘Are the Colts committing enough dollars to winning football games?’ That’s never going to be the question,” Irsay said. “We’re always going to be out there trying to do everything we can for greatness on the field. At the same time ... one of the most important things is signing your great players that are going into their second contracts. That’s something that is critical.”

If the Colts had to start the regular season today they should be good enough to push for a playoff spot following the trade for quarterback Carson Wentz. But it’s not just about making the playoffs for Irsay, who has made no secret of his desire to win multiple Super Bowl titles.

What areas do the Colts need to address? There’s still a void to fill at left tackle following Anthony Castonzo’s retirement in January.

The Colts weren’t going to get in a bidding war for Trent Williams, who re-signed with San Francisco for six years and $138 million. Offensive tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Alejandro Villanueva are two of the top three remaining free agents on Kevin Seifert’s free agent list, but Irsay seemed to indicate the Colts are looking to address the position in the draft -- they have the 21st pick of the first round -- if Nelson doesn’t slide over from guard.

“The draft would be a direction that would be ideal. We’ve seen that process work for [former Colts] Tarik Glenn and Anthony Castonzo,” Irsay said. “[We’d like to get] someone who we could see playing here for a long time.”

Irsay specifically mentioned another playmaker and cornerback -- to go with tackle -- when talking about positions the Colts still want to address this offseason. Those moves could be made through free agency, the draft or trades.

The Colts have two free agents at both of those positions in receiver T.Y. Hilton and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The door hasn’t been shut on either of them returning.

“We’d love to have [Hilton] back and we’re gonna work hard to have him back, but it has to fit in the context of the roster, which makes the most sense to make us the best football team possible,” Irsay said. “I know Chris is working hard on that and we have optimism there that that can happen.”