INDIANAPOLIS — Colts general manager Chris Ballard, admitting he “failed” by taking the wrong approach to the 2022 season, outlined a plan Tuesday that includes considering Jeff Saturday as a candidate in the search for coaches of the team and has displayed a willingness to trade up to the NFL Draft’s No. 1 pick to solve the team’s quarterback dilemma for years.
In discussing the most disappointing season of his six-year tenure, Ballard acknowledged growing criticism of his decisions and publicly acknowledged the significant challenges facing the Colts (4-12-1).
“I failed,” Ballard said. “I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I let a lot of people down.”
Among the main reasons for the Colts’ struggles, which led to the firing of former coach Frank Reich in November, was the team’s approach to quarterback, Ballard said. The Colts have had different starting QBs to open each of the past five seasons, and the team had three different quarterbacks — Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles — to start games in 2022.
“Looking back, when you change quarterbacks every year, it’s tough,” Ballard said. “It’s hard for everyone. It’s hard for the team. Not fixing this position has a little something to do with [the team’s predicament].”
The Colts, who hold the No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft in April, are generally expected to select a quarterback. When asked directly if he was ready to get aggressive, maybe even trade up to No. 1, Ballard didn’t flinch.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” said Ballard, who in the past has expressed some reluctance to invest in a rookie quarterback. “If we thought there was a player we were determined to get that made the franchise and the team better, that’s what we would do.
“We understand the importance of position. Getting one you can win with and be right with is the most important thing – not whether we take one or not. It’s being right.”
Ballard identified other errors that plagued the team, such as his unfortunate moves at left tackle that resulted in a revolving door at one of the team’s most critical positions.
“You get a vet quarterback and, well, here’s the expectation: We’re going to the Super Bowl,” Ballard said. “…Well, there were holes in there, and our job is to fix those holes.”
There has been much speculation about Ballard’s level of authority, given owner Jim Irsay’s recent exercise of his own decision-making power.
In that regard, Ballard admitted publicly for the first time that he disagreed with Irsay on the decision to install the team’s interim coach on Saturday after Reich was fired. Other specific inside candidates were not discussed, Ballard said. “It never really got to that point,” Ballard said.
At the time, Saturday was an ESPN analyst with a part-time role as a Colts consultant. The former Colts All-Pro center had no college or NFL coaching experience when he was hired.
“It’s unprecedented, and we’re putting him in a really tough spot here,” Ballard recalled when telling Irsay.
Still, after going 1-7 and suffering multiple losses in historic fashion, Saturday is a candidate for team coaching as expected, Ballard confirmed.
Ballard also addressed the perception that Irsay denied him the ability to make consequential decisions, which would be a significant change from the past.
“Mr. Irsay lets me do my job,” Ballard said. “He’s a good man and a good owner, and he has a lot of experience in this league, and we talk about everything.
“We don’t always agree. If we always agree, I’m not doing my job.”
As this coaching search unfolds, Saturday’s close relationship with Irsay is seen as a possible advantage. Ballard denied that Saturday would have an unfair advantage over the other candidates. The team has already requested permission to interview several coaches, including Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
“[Saturday’s] The advantage is that he knows the inner workings and has been able to see inside what he wants to fix,” Ballard said. “But we will have a process that will be equal for everyone.
Even after a season that included the sacking of Reich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and quarterbacking machinations that included the benching of Ryan twice, Ballard was adamant that the Colts aren’t far behind.
“I think there are building blocks here,” Ballard said. “They need to play better. Our best players need to play to their level. But I don’t think we’re devoid of talent. We need to add more talent. There are areas where we need to improve. But I don’t. don’t think we’re completely devoid of talent.”