Colts GM: Free-agent price tags pushed focus to draft

The Indianapolis Colts entered free agency with plenty of salary-cap space to go on a shopping spree. General manager Chris Ballard elected to keep his cash.

The Colts made one lone move since free agency opened, adding ex-Raiders defensive end Denico Autry. Not exactly a splash signing.

After pulling off a trade with the New York Jets for the No. 3 overall pick, Ballard said his strategy of staying quiet in free agency was conscious, despite getting outbid for several players.

"Look, one of our goals -- we looked in free agency, and we just didn't feel like we were at a point to where we wanted to add some of the guys at the price that they were at," Ballard told the team's official website over the weekend. "And we need to add some young talent to this roster. So the ability to have seven players here in the next two years that are all going to be first- and second-round picks was attractive to us."

Ballard's decisions the past week have spoken volumes on two fronts: 1) He's confident Andrew Luck will be ready for the season, and 2) the previous regime left him a bare cupboard. He wants to stock it with young players, not bridge adds.

The Colts aren't one addition on either side of the ball away from contending for a Super Bowl. Ballard knows he must make systematic moves to set his team up for the future. The Colts could have overpaid for one of the second-fiddle receivers who got some whopping contracts in the past week -- the last man running the show made many splashy moves. Instead, Ballard will focus on a draft-and-develop approach.

Adding to his draft stockpile while remaining inside the top 10, made the trade with the Jets easy from the Colts' perspective.

"Plus, being able to pick up the two 2s (second-round picks) this year and the 2 (second-round pick) next year, it gives us four picks this year in the top-50 picks of the draft, and then three picks next year -- you know, one in the first, and two in [the] second," Ballard said. "So it gives us a chance to really replenish our young talent, and to start to building a core of young talent that we need to do."

Dropping down again in the first round could corral even more picks for a team that has more holes than difference-making bodies.

Ballard's plan to draft and develop is a tried-and-true method that doesn't earn praise in March but could set up the franchise for the long haul. The key to the equation is nailing the bevy of selections Ballard acquired.

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