The middle of March brings two major events for sports fans. While free agency isn’t quite as popular as March Madness here in the Hoosier state, fans are still eagerly waiting which new players will be dawning their teams’ colors come next season. Colts fans have grown accustomed to Chris Ballard’s famed “bargain bin” approach in free agency. While it’s hard to see the veteran general manager deviating from his ways, the past several years have given us an inside look into the types of players, and positions, that Ballard likes to allocate his precious cap space. As free agency begins, I look into four free agents that fit the description of Chris Ballard’s typical signings.
Andre Dillard is a player that I have been on for quite some time as a potential Colts’ free agent signee. Dillard is a former first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles and has been injury plagued throughout his tenure there. The former Washington State Cougar already has familiarity with Head Coach Shane Steichen’s offensive system and would provide valuable depth and competition to a left tackle spot that is currently anchored by second-year Bernhard Raimann. Dillard has posted good PFF grades in very limited snaps, and would probably love a chance to compete for a starting tackle job with his former offensive play-caller.
Gates is a former undrafted free agent out of Nebraska who came to Giants camp in 2018 and made enough of an impression to earn a 2-year, 6.8 million dollar contract extension back in 2020. Unfortunately for Gates, shortly after he was named a captain for the 2021 season, he suffered a gruesome leg injury that he was just able to come back from in October of this past season. With another off-season of recovery, the former Cornhusker will likely climb closer to the pre-injury form that showed him to be an adequate option on the interior.
If the Colts were to move on from Ryan Kelly, Gates would be a cheaper replacement option at center or guard, depending on how Chris Ballard approaches the draft. With his history as a team captain, I could see Chris Ballard being drawn to this player as an additional piece to the Colts’ offensive line puzzle.
This one makes almost too much sense, especially when you take into consideration that both EJ Speed and Bobby Okereke could sign elsewhere. Chris Board is a 27-year-old undersized linebacker who has carved out a role in the NFL as a special team demon. He has been given the chance to start with both the Ravens and Lions but hasn’t quite snatched the opportunity yet. However, with Shaquille Leonard returning from injury and Zaire Franklin coming off a career year, the Colts wouldn’t be asking Board to do much on defense. Board could function as a valuable depth piece at LB3/LB4, while being one of new special teams coordinator Brian Mason’s favorite chess pieces in the often overlooked third phase of a football game.
Chris Ballard tends to spend the most money on cornerbacks, so ponying up a little extra cash for a bigger name at the outside corner position wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Griffin signed a 3-year, 44.5 million dollar contract in 2021 with the division rival Jaguars before promptly being cut on March 8th. Griffin is most comfortable as a zone corner, coming originally from the Seattle system that was predicated on these concepts. Griffin’s market could be slightly dampened by a back injury that landed him on the injured reserve in week 6 last year.
While the former Jaguar will likely still have multiple suitors, it wouldn’t surprise me if Chris Ballard signed Griffin as a hedge against Stephon Gilmore’s potential decline in his age-33 season. Even if Griffin were to sign with Indy on a one or two-year deal, I expect cornerback to be on the shortlist of positions Chris Ballard looks towards on day 2 of the draft, especially with Kenny Moore II’s unknown status with the team going forward.