The Colts opted to make a change at general manager relatively late in the hiring cycle when they dismissed Ryan Grigson on Jan. 21, but they quickly developed an eye for his replacement after a brief period of soul searching.
Eight days later, Indianapolis made the hiring of Chris Ballard, the Chiefs‘ director of football operations, official.
Ballard, who seemed to have edged out Colts vice president of football operations Jimmy Raye III for the job, has been with the Chiefs‘ and Bears‘ organizations since 2001. In recent years, Ballard has interviewed for openings in Tennessee and Chicago. His name was also mentioned for the opening in San Francisco but, according to NFL Network’s Michael Silver, he declined to interview.
“Chris has a solid reputation throughout the National Football League as a heavyweight executive and our extensive discussion with him confirmed that reputation,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. “He’s a savvy, organized and thorough talent evaluator, but beyond that, he’s a terrific person our community will be proud of.”
The Colts‘ divorce with Grigson sparked a heavy amount of interest across the league. Unlike the only other general manager opening — the 49ers — there is a clear and established franchise quarterback and several Pro Bowl caliber players in Indy. Receiver T.Y. Hilton is representing the club at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday night.
Now, Ballard will be tasked with finding protection for a quarterback who was sacked 41 times this season. Luck recently underwent shoulder surgery and suffered from cracked ribs the season before.
“I am extremely excited about Chris coming on as our general manager,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said in a statement. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and a ton of experience to the organization. I’m looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and going to work alongside him.”
The hiring ends years of speculation in Indianapolis. While Grigson and Pagano were supposed to be working together, there seemed to be a glaring disconnect between the type of players Pagano and his rotating cast of offensive coordinators required to succeed. On defense — Pagano’s specialty — the team finished 22nd in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed. Last year, they were 25th in points and 26th in yards.
In comes Ballard, who helped piece together a dominant defense for coordinator Bob Sutton in Kansas City. He also oversaw the department that stocked the Chiefs‘ cupboard at running back, offensive line and receiver for this year’s 12-4 run. Since Ballard arrived in 2013, the Chiefs have not finished lower than second in the AFC West.
During his time with the Chiefs, the club managed to unearth Pro Bowlers in the early rounds (first-round pick Marcus Peters) and the later rounds (fifth-round pick Tyreek Hill and third-round pick Travis Kelce).
Irsay is gambling on the hope that Ballard can find similar success in Indianapolis. The Colts (8-8) finished in third place this season and will hold either the 14th or 15th pick in the draft, depending on the results of a coin flip with the Philadelphia Eagles that is set to take place at the NFL Scouting Combine.