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Colts GM Chris Ballard admits he, organization 'failed' in 2022 season

Colts general manager Chris Ballard is entering another offseason in which he has to find an answer at quarterback.

It's not quite Groundhog Day in Indianapolis, but it's starting to get stale. It's also not the only area in which Ballard knows he has to do a better job.

Ballard began his season-ending press conference Tuesday by bluntly admitting his mistakes, a refreshing response from a general manager who has been remarkably secure in his position when considering his team has fallen short of expectations in each of the last two seasons.

"Look, I failed. I'm not gonna sit up here and make excuses," Ballard said. "I failed a lot of people. Highly disappointed about where we're at, how the season went. I never take lightly what's at stake here. It's not the wins and losses, but people's lives are on the line. Players' families, coaches' families, front office, people in this building, and I don't ever take that lightly. I'm disappointed. Disappointed in where we're at, and ultimately, it falls on my shoulders.

"I won't walk away from that. I won't run from it. Saying that, we'll grow from it. And I'll grow from it. And I'll get better because of it."

Since Andrew Luck stunned the football world by retiring just before the 2019 season, Ballard has been unable to shake the same issue that plagues most every club lacking a franchise quarterback. Philip Rivers proved to be a quality one-year stopgap, but trials with Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan have flopped. In 2022, it cost head coach Frank Reich his job and increased the temperature of Ballard's seat to its highest since he took over in 2017.

"When you're changing quarterbacks every year, it's tough," Ballard said. "It's tough on everybody. ... Not getting that position settled, you know, has a little something to do with it."

Despite his failures, Ballard remains employed by Jim Irsay's Colts. In today's NFL, in which the leash on coaches and executives seems to only grow shorter with each passing year, Ballard is approaching unstable ground, making his next decision at the game's most important position even more significant.

It likely won't include Ryan, who proved in his one-year trial he wasn't good enough to command the starting role in Indianapolis. Ballard expressed gratitude for Ryan's contributions while also admitting the Colts' problems extended beyond the game's most important position. Simply, Indianapolis won't improve if Ballard doesn't fix the problems at both quarterback and within the group tasked with protecting the quarterback.

"That's not an indictment of Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan is as professional a guy, player that I've been around," Ballard said." I still think he's got something left in his body to play. He's smart, knows how to play the game. Looking back, early in the season we had some changes to the offensive line and that's where our struggles occurred early. We just never really recovered from them."

Indianapolis' decline up front was startling to witness in 2022. Under Ballard's direction, the Colts had built a reputation for having one of the league's best lines for much of the last five years, and returned three key linemen Ballard believed would help the group continue to perform at a high level.

Instead, like Ballard, they failed to do their jobs well enough to win, especially in the first half of the season.

"It took us a while to get some continuity. I probably underestimated that," Ballard said. "I thought, we've been so good up front for the last few years, I thought with the three really good players we had coming back in Braden (Smith), Ryan Kelly and Quenton (Nelson), that we would absorb those other positions and they would come up to speed right away. And it just didn't occur that way."

Ballard's Colts entered 2022 with plenty of potential. Ryan arrived via offseason trade and appeared set to give the team some desperately needed stability at quarterback, and although Indianapolis didn't boast the most fearsome group of playmakers offensively, they still had one of the league's top runners in Jonathan Taylor.

His injuries took away that strength, leaving Ryan to founder behind a leaky offensive line. The results were ugly.

"More games are lost than won. We lost them," Ballard said. "Like, you cannot be -13 in turnover ratio and win. You can't do it. You can't be 32nd in the league in the red zone and win. And I think our defense finished 30th or 31st in the red zone.

"Those are key areas of the game that you have to perform to be able to win."

Ballard's offseason checklist begins not with a quarterback, but head coach. Jeff Saturday arrived as an unprecedented external in-season hire, replacing Reich as interim coach despite possessing zero NFL coaching experience. Ballard voiced his concerns to Irsay when the owner presented his idea to his general manger, but the Colts still proceeded with their unorthodox hire.

"I voiced my concerns, which were, 'look, this is unprecedented. We're putting him into a really tough situation taking a team over midseason,'" Ballard said. "It's going to be tough, and I wanted to make sure he understood that. And I had the same talk with Jeff."

Saturday won just one game -- his first -- before losing his final seven games to end the season mired in irrelevance.

Saturday will be a candidate for the Colts' permanent job, Ballard said Tuesday, and will be subjected to the same hiring process as every other candidate. It will be up to Ballard to hear him out, but Saturday told reporters Monday he had a "clear vision" for the Colts' future if he landed the job.

"Here's what I know about Jeff, being around him," Ballard said. "He is smart, he is a good teammate, and he is a leader. Like, those things are real. ... You can't do wholesale changes when you come in in Week 8. That starts in April. ... It'll be interesting to hear (his pitch). He'll go through the process just like everyone else. It'll be interesting to hear his vision, how he wants to build it."

A full reset doesn't appear to be in the cards for the Colts, at least not as long as Ballard is employed. He said Tuesday he believes Indianapolis has some foundational pieces on its roster. The cupboard is not bare in his mind, but does need an offseason restock.

Ballard admitted he also needs to evaluate his own performance and respond accordingly.

"I gotta grow. I'm very stubborn and dogmatic at times," Ballard said. "I do believe you have to be great up front. That'll be on my grave. You gotta be good up front, and we weren't good enough this year. We showed signs and I do think there's potential going forward, but at the end of the day, we weren't good enough, and that's on me.

"How we build the rest of the roster, that's an area we'll examine hard and move forward and grow."

One year after Irsay delivered an emotional message from a tarmac to Colts fans, Indianapolis finds itself at its lowest point in the Ballard era. Time is ticking on his future with the Colts, making this offseason more important than ever.

Ballard sees it as his greatest opportunity to prove his worth -- and get the Colts back to a place of legitimacy.

"Failure is not allowed. It's not allowed," Ballard said. "You fail in this world -- and we're doing it at the biggest stage -- when you fail in this world, you get canceled. And everybody wants your head, rightfully so in some cases. But if you're able to go through it and grow from it, you can reach your greatest heights. And I think we will."

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