INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chris Ballard’s quick turnaround with the Indianapolis Colts has resulted in quick recognition.
The second-year general manager has been named Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association. It marks the third time in the last 10 years a Colts’ executive earned the honor. Ryan Grigson was named in 2012 and Bill Polian in 2009 to go along with being cited in 1995-96 with the Carolina Panthers and 1999 and ’05 with the Colts.
Ballard succeeded Grigson in January 2017 and inherited a franchise that had endured consecutive 8-8 records after reaching the 2014 AFC Championship game. The Colts bottomed out at 4-12 in Ballard’s first season as quarterback Andrew Luck missed all of 2017 with his right shoulder issues.
Bolstered by a pair of strong drafts and the addition of several mid-level free agents, the Colts took a quantum leap this season. They joined the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs and 1970 Cincinnati Bengals as the only teams in NFL history to overcome a 1-5 start and make the playoffs.
The Colts finished 10-6 and earned a wild-card playoff spot by winning nine of their final 10 games. They then went on the road and won at Houston in the first round of the postseason before dropping a 31-13 decision at Kansas City in the divisional round.
The roster was reinforced as 16 of Ballard’s 19 draft picks were on the playoff roster.
Guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard were the first rookie teammates since Chicago’s Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus to be named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. Leonard was the PFWA’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and was joined on the All-Rookie first team by Nelson and offensive tackle Braden Smith.
Integral free-agent acquisitions included Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt, Al Woods, Rigoberto Sanchez, Denico Autry, Eric Ebron and Matt Slauson. A trade with New England delivered backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the roster. Kenny Moore II, Mark Glowinski, Pierre Desir and Zach Pascal were claimed off waivers.
First-time head coach Frank Reich was quick to point to Ballard’s overall leadership.
“Chris is passionate,’’ he said. “He’s intelligent. He’s football through and through.’’
The first time Reich talked with Ballard was in February when he interviewed for the Colts’ head coaching vacancy after Josh McDaniels reneged on an agreement to succeed Chuck Pagano.
His first impression?
“It was off the charts, very direct,’’ Reich said. “He’s just very direct, a straight-shooter. I could feel the integrity. High character, football . . . I expected that, but just football through and through. It was a fun conversation and fun building that relationship.’’