Ballard says Colts will be careful in free agency

INDIANAPOLIS — It didn’t take new INDIANApolis Colts general
manager Chris Ballard to lay out his game plan heading into this
month’s free agency period and next month’s National Football
League draft.

His goals are simple. Ballard said that he wants to improve the
Colts’ competitive speed and toughness. He wants to improve the
competition on the roster.

How Ballard is able to achieve those goals is what’s important
right now.

First of all, don’t expect Indianapolis to go overboard in the
veteran free agency market. The Colts will be picky shoppers as
they look for the right scheme and locker room fits.

The good thing is that Indianapolis does have some talent already
on the roster.

“I think we’ve got some good pieces to work with,” Ballard told
reporters at the National Scouting Combine. “But I want you to
understand this. From 1 to 63, we’re always trying to get better.
We’re always trying to create competition. Players have to earn it.

“And the way that players earn it is that you have to create
competition at every position every year. So we’re always going to
be digging looking for talent. Even if we had won the Super Bowl,
it doesn’t change. You’re always trying to get better talent in the
building at all times.”

Despite a reluctance to go heavy into the veteran free agent
market, Indianapolis will do its due diligence.

“I don’t want to create the misconception that we’re never going to
hit free agency,” Ballard said. “That’s not right. When we do dip
into free agency and sign other players, we have to be right on the
player you’ve signed. Let me give you an example. You pay a guy a
lot of money and you plug him into the locker room. Well, the
locker room will be watching. 0

“In my mind, that guy has to be a worker, he has to be a good
teammate, he has to earn it. He has to earn that money and earn
that right. And he’s got to be a fit for what you’re doing
offensively and defensively. That’s where my fear of free agency
comes in. Make sure he is a good fit, he is the type of person
that’s going to come in and the other players aren’t going to
resent him for making a lot of money. If he’s a worker and he’s
good teammate and he’s going to help us win, they’ll buy in and
he’ll be a good player for us.”

As for the draft, Ballard wouldn’t pinpoint one area of need that’s
more important than another. He did concede that this year’s draft
will be a good one to upgrade a defense, which is one area where
the Colts could use help.

“It’s a good draft,” Ballard said. “I think it’s a really good
defensive draft. And I think there’s some good offensive players
too. Just because some people will say there’s not (a deep pool of
quality offensive players) doesn’t mean its right.

“I’ve don’t scout with my ears. I scout with my eyes.”

–General manager Chris Ballard said quarterback Andrew Luck, who
underwent shoulder surgery after the 2016 season, will not be on a
timeline for when he will begin practicing.

“He’s rehabbing and doing everything the doctors are telling him,”
Ballard said. “We’re going to go strictly on the doctor’s orders.”

“He’s been (at the Colts complex) every day that I’ve been in the
building. But we’re going to do what’s best for Andrew. And when
he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. No timeline.”

–Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee, who also handled kickoffs and was the
holder for kicker Adam Vinatieri, unexpectedly retired last month
citing concerns about knee issues. He has become a member of the
Indianapolis sports media.

“Replacing Pat won’t be easy, general manager Chris Ballard said.
“He was a great punter for the Colts. I’m happy Pat McAfee found
something he’s really passionate about (outside of football).”

–The Colts hired Sanjay Lal as the team’s wide receivers coach.
Lal has spent 10 seasons in the NFL ranks, including the last two
years as Buffalo’s wide receivers coach.

Before arriving in Buffalo, Lal spent three seasons (2012-14) with
the New York Jets. He spent five seasons (2007-11) with the Oakland
Raiders as the assistant wide receivers/quality control coach
(2007-08) and wide receivers coach (2009-11).

Lal replaced Lee Hull as wide receivers coach. Hull was in his
first year with the Colts. It’s the only coaching staff change made
by head coach Chuck Pagano during the offseason.

–The Colts announced that they will not have training camp at
Anderson University this summer. No replacement site for camp has
been announced. Since moving from Baltimore in 1984, Indianapolis
has had training camp at two in-state sites: Anderson University
(1984-98, 2010-16) and Rose-Hulman Institute (1999-2009).

–According to Overthecap.com, the Colts rank seventh among the
league’s 32 teams in the amount of salary cap space available this
offseason. Indianapolis has approximately $53,238,812 at their
disposal.

–Indianapolis was awarded a compensatory fourth round draft pick.
It will be the 144th overall selection in the draft. The Colts will
have their own picks in Rounds 1-6. The team’s seventh-round pick
was traded to Cleveland last year in exchange for DL Billy Winn.

–There will be a coin flip Friday at the combine that will
determine where the Colts will be in the first round of this year’s
NFL Draft. Officials from Indianapolis, Minnesota and Philadelphia
will be involved in the coin flip, which will determine the
14th/15th spots in the first round.

The Eagles own Minnesota first-round pick this year. Both the Colts
and Vikings finished the 2016 season with identical 8-8 records and
with the same strength of schedule.

–Indianapolis did not use its franchise tag on any of its nine
free agents.

–The Colts signed free agent OL Fahn Cooper. Cooper (6-5, 306)
spent the entire 2016 season on the San Francisco 49ers practice
squad.

Cooper participated in the 49ers 2016 offseason program and
training camp before being waived during final cuts on Sept. 3 and
was signed to the team’s practice squad the next day. Cooper was
originally selected by San Francisco in the fifth round of the 2016
NFL Draft.

Cooper started all 26 games in two seasons (2014-15) at Mississippi.

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