The Indianapolis Colts jumped six wins in one regular season, going from a top-three draft pick to playing in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.
Indianapolis overachieved by most estimations in the first year under coach Frank Reich, turning a 1-5 start to the season into a 10-6 regular season record and a Wild Card victory in Houston.
With Andrew Luck healthy for the entire season, a cast of mostly nondescript characters was buoyed by the quarterback, offensive line, Reich and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
The Colts won 10 games with a mishmash of castoffs playing vital roles. Receivers Dontrelle Inman, Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal played key snaps in the passing game. The defense was mostly no-name young players or ones given up on by other teams. Pierre Desir helped lock down DeAndre Hopkins in the Wild Card win. Corner Kenny More became a blitzing maven off the edge. All season, the pass rush was led by former Raider Denico Autry. Outside of Darius Leonard's huge rookie season, there were no household names on D.
With a trove of draft picks and cap space to spare, Ballard could help his team go from good to great this offseason. An Executive of the Year candidate, Ballard won't splurge on big-name players merely to make a splash, and he certainly won't overpay.
"When it gets out of reach, I just think we are comfortable enough to sleep at night saying we are going to find (another) answer," he said. "Sometimes it might be the household name that everybody wants us to sign, and that's OK. I get it. But we are going to find an answer. Whether it's in the first window of free agency, or maybe it's in the second window, maybe it's the draft, maybe it's after the draft, maybe it's at the cut-down day. There's times to acquire players at all points in the season."
Given their cap space and needs, expect the Colts to be linked to several big-name free agents, epically those at skill positions. Ballard, however, knows team building, and taking the next step, is more than winning the first weeks of March.