INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indianapolis Colts looked to Kansas City in their attempt at returning to relevancy.
Welcome, Chris Ballard.
Now the overriding question as the first-time general manager addresses the flawed roster he inherited: Will any Chiefs follow him to Indy?
The arrival of a new GM or head coach often is followed by that individual easing his transition by adding players from his previous team. In inexact personnel matters, familiarity offers a measure of comfort.
No sooner had owner Jim Irsay put his franchise in the hands of general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano in January 2012 than there was an influx of players from Philadelphia and Baltimore. To help implement Pagano’s 3-4 system, the Colts used veteran free agency to sign three of his Ravens: end Cory Redding, tackle Brandon McKinney and safety Tom Zbikowski. Grigson’s familiarity with Philly’s talent paved the way for trades for offensive tackle Winston Justice, cornerback D.J. Johnson and linebackers Moise Fokou and Greg Lloyd.
So, should we brace ourselves for more of the same?
Probably not, and certainly not to that extent.
Initially, the Chiefs’ pool of pending free agents is more quality than quantity. They must deal with just six unrestricted free agents-to-be: All-world safety Eric Berry, two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe, guard Mike Person, running back Knile Davis and defensive end Kendall Reyes and Jarvis Jenkins.
Kansas City seldom loses a player it covets, and there’s little chance Berry, one of the premier defensive players in the league, hits the open market. At worst, he’s facing a second season playing under the franchise tag.
However, Berry’s situation, coupled with limited salary-cap flexibility moving forward, might make it difficult for Kansas City to also meet Poe’s demands. The 6-3, 345-pound, 26-year-old Poe would represent a proven interior anchor for the Colts’ defense.
Regardless of how many – or if any – Chiefs follow Ballard to Indy, he made it clear he’s not a believer in investing heavily in veteran free agency.
“We’ll get into free agency a little bit,’’ he said, “but you can’t buy a locker room and you have to be careful when you enter into free agency. But we’re going to try to acquire as many young players that we can to have a competitive roster.
“We want the most competitive roster we can get. That’s how you get great.’’
The Colts are projected to have approximately $50 million in cap space when the new league year opens March 9, and that could increase if they restructure or terminate the contracts defensive tackle Art Jones, cornerback Patrick Robinson and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
The need to inject fresh, young talent into the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense might force Ballard to, at least initially, be a heavier investor in the free agent market than he prefers.
Irsay signed off on massive free-agent investments over the last five seasons, but indicated the team will be more prudent as it builds toward extended success.
“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,’’ he 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 of 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.’’