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Chris Ballard says he 'failed' with Colts, points to QB instability

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INDIANAPOLIS – Colts general manager Chris Ballard, admitting he “failed” to take a flawed approach to the 2022 season, laid out a plan Tuesday that includes considering Jeff Saturday as a candidate in the team’s head coach search and demonstrated willingness to trade down to the top pick in the NFL draft to resolve the team’s year-old quarterback dilemma.

In discussing the most disappointing season of his six-year tenure, Ballard acknowledged the 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’ve failed a lot of people.”

Among the main reasons for the Colts’ struggles, which led to the firing of former head coach Frank Reich in November, is the team’s approach to the quarterback position, Ballard said. The Colts have had different starting QBs to open each of the past five seasons, and the team has had three different quarterbacks – Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles – starting games in 2022.

“Looking back, when you change quarterbacks every year, it’s tough,” Ballard said. “It’s difficult for everyone. It’s difficult for the team. Not getting a defined position has a little to do with [the team’s predicament].”

The Colts, who hold the fourth pick in the April NFL Draft, are expected to select a quarterback. Asked directly if he was willing to be aggressive, perhaps even moving up to No. 1, Ballard didn’t flinch.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” said Ballard, who in the past has expressed a reluctance to invest in a rookie quarterback. “If we thought there was a player we wanted to sign to improve the franchise and the team, that’s what we would do.

“We understand the importance of position. Getting one you can win with and being right is the most important thing – not whether we take one or not. It’s being right.”

Ballard pointed to other mistakes that hurt the team, such as his ill-fated moves at left tackle that resulted in a revolving door at one of the team’s most critical positions.

“You get a veteran quarterback and, well, here’s the expectation: We’re going to the Super Bowl,” Ballard said. “… Well, there were holes there, and our job is to fix those holes.”

There has been much speculation about Ballard’s level of authority, given the recent exercise of his own decision-making power by owner Jim Irsay.

On that subject, Ballard publicly acknowledged for the first time that he disagreed with Irsay over the decision to install Saturday as the team’s interim head coach following Reich’s firing. Other specific internal candidates were not discussed, Ballard said. “It never got to that point,” Ballard said.

At the time, Saturday was an ESPN analyst in a part-time role as a consultant for the Colts. The former Colts All-Pro center had no college or NFL coaching experience when he was hired.

“This is unprecedented and we’re putting him in a really tough spot here,” Ballard recalled, telling Irsay.

Still, after going 1-7 and suffering several defeats in historic fashion, Saturday is a candidate in the team’s coaching quest, as expected, Ballard confirmed.

Ballard also addressed the perception that Irsay has denied him the ability to make important decisions, which would be a significant departure from the past.

“Mr. Irsay lets me do my job,” Ballard said. “He is a good man and a good owner, he has a lot of experience in this league and we talk about everything.

“We don’t always agree. If we agree all the time, I’m not doing my job.”

As this current search for trainers unfolds, Saturday’s close relationship with Irsay is seen as a potential asset. Ballard denied that Saturday would have an unfair advantage over other candidates. The team has already requested permission to interview several head 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 was able to see inside what he wants to fix,” Ballard said. “But we will have a process that will be the same for everyone.”

Even after a season that included the firing of Reich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and the quarterback’s machinations that included Ryan on the bench twice, Ballard was adamant that the Colts are not far off.

“I think there are some building blocks here,” Ballard said. “They need to play better. Our best players need to play to their standard. But I don’t think we are lacking in talent. We need to add more talent. There are areas where we need to improve. But don’t think we are completely lacking in talent.”