In January of 2017, the Indianapolis Colts introduced Chris Ballard as their new general manager. Ballard was a highly-regarded candidate who was part of a staff that brought players such as Travis Kells, Tyrek Hill and Marcus Peters to Kansas City. It seemed like a natural progression not only for Ballard but for the Chiefs as well.
Good organizations produce good candidates for other organizations. Most in Kansas City saw Ballard’s loss as worthwhile, but it was not impossible given the success of then-GM John Dorsey.
Dorsey quickly brought the Chiefs back from the darkness that was the 2012 season. He got Kansas City a viable quarterback in Alex Smith. He had an amazing track record in the draft and, most importantly, he made a huge trade to bring Kansas City to something he hadn’t in 30 years: a first-round quarterback.
As Ballard exited the organization, the future looked bright for Dorsey and the Chiefs. Until June 22, 2017, when the Chiefs announced they were parting ways with Dorsey, a few weeks before the start of training camp. The move left fans with more questions than answers.
What did this shocking news mean for the selection of Patrick Mahomes? What did the move mean for the future of the roster? And did Kansas City let its best general manager candidate walk out the doors of Indianapolis?
It’s really hard to come to the conclusion that the Chiefs decided to walk away from Dorsey in just five months. Andy Reid, Clark Hunt and the Chiefs’ brain trust knew there was a chance Ballard could be replaced for John Dorsey. Nevertheless, they still let him get away.
Enter Brett Veitch
In July of 2017, the Chiefs introduced a former Eagles scout and then-chief co-director of player personnel as their new general manager. From that moment onwards the race began between Veach and Ballard. His tenure started within a span of a few months. Ballard had the No. 1 overall pick at quarterback and was in need of a roster overhaul. Veitch had an aging roster with cap issues and a young unknown quarterback prospect.
While Chiefs fans will always attribute the drafting of Patrick Mahomes to Veitch, the reality is that Dorsey made that selection. Veitch’s fingerprints were all in, but eventually, Dorsey traded Kansas City to bring the hero home. This is significant, because 2017 was more or less a season of “lame ducks” for Veach.
The draft was over, all the major free agents were signed and the roster was practically ready for camp. Ballard had a decent start, yet the 2017 Colts struggled. Andrew Luck never recovered, Chuck Pagano was fired and Josh McDaniels bailed on his commitment to replace Pagano.
make a difference where it matters
When talking about Chris Ballard and the success he’s had as a general manager, most will start with the 2018 draft. Ballard moved back from pick number 3 in the business with the New York Jets and still acquired two All-Pro level players (Quenton Nelson and Shaquille Leonard).
Both players are tremendous and are key players on the Colts roster. Of course, building a roster around All-Pro level players was always a great place to start. That is – unless they play left guard and off-the-ball linebacker.
This started a major trend for Ballard—home hitting moves to positions that mattered the least. For example, Jonathan Taylor is one of the best running backs in the league and yet his dominance could not propel the Colts to the playoffs in 2021. In 2020, the Colts dropped their first round pick to acquire DeForest Buckner and Sign. him for a mega-deal. Buckner is a game wrecker (no doubt about it), but even as a top-five defensive tackle, he has yet to have a double-digit sack season as a Colt.
Usually, around March, the NFL media praise Ballard because he just managed to get a quarterback for a second or third round or to sign Philip Rivers for nothing. While it may seem sensible to be able to acquire a starting quarterback for mid-level picks, you get what you pay for.
The move on from Carson Wentz to the current version of Matt Ryan is really nothing to celebrate. Additionally, the Colts tend to have holes in some of the most important places on the roster: wide receivers, left tackles, edge rushers, and corners. The Colts have the strongest roster where it matters least.
It’s important to note that Luck’s unexpected retirement completely changed Chris Ballard’s time in Indianapolis. When he took over, he believed he had an elite quarterback on the roster. Then that all changed in the middle of a preseason game.
Veitch has a future Pro Football Hall of Famer at quarterback, and Ballard is rearranging the deck chairs on Titanic with Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, and Carson Wentz.
What if the Chiefs hired Chris Ballard?
Will the two Lombardi trophies still be sitting in Arrowhead?
It’s hard to argue against the coach-quarterback combination of Mahomes and Reid, so it’s possible. The biggest difference between Veitch and Ballard is their aggression. Veitch has made major changes to the Chiefs roster through free agency, draft, and trade to improve its roster. He traded to bring in a pass rusher (Frank Clarke) that was the key to winning Super Bowl LIV. He went out and signed a top free-agent safety (Tyron Matthews) to help end a complete defensive rebuild. Ballard has been very conservative in all elements of roster construction and it could be argued that this has cost him.
It’s easy to criticize Veitch in the early stages, because he (like all GMs) has made some bad moves. But overall, the body of work speaks for itself. The future for Kansas City is as bright as ever, with a young core, upcoming cap space, 12 draft picks in the 2023 draft, and a Hall of Fame combination of Mahomes and Reid. While it may be interesting to wonder what Ballard will look like as the Chiefs’ general manager, it’s safe to say fans were quite pleased with the end result – at least one championship.