In January of 2017, the Indianapolis Colts introduced Chris Ballard as their new general manager. Ballard was a highly-regarded candidate that was a part of a staff that brought players such as Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Marcus Peters to Kansas City. This seemed like a natural progression for not only Ballard but also for the Chiefs as well.
Good organizations generate quality candidates for other organizations to harvest. Most in Kansas City viewed the loss of Ballard as meaningful but not insurmountable given the success of then-current GM John Dorsey.
Dorsey quickly brought the Chiefs back from the darkness that was the 2012 season. He obtained Kansas City a viable quarterback in Alex Smith. He had an amazing track record in the draft and most importantly he made a major trade to bring Kansas City something it had not had in 30 years: a first-round quarterback.
As Ballard exited the organization, the future seemed bright for Dorsey and the Chiefs. Until June 22, 2017, when the Chiefs announced they were parting ways with Dorsey, just weeks before the beginning of training camp. This move left fans with more questions than answers.
What did this shocking news mean for the selection of Patrick Mahomes? What did this move mean for the future of the roster? And did Kansas City let their best general manager candidate walk out the door to Indianapolis?
It’s really hard to come to the conclusion that the Chiefs decided to move away from Dorsey in just five months. Andy Reid, Clark Hunt and the brain trust of the Chiefs knew that there was a chance that Ballard could have been the replacement for John Dorsey. Yet, they still let him walk away.
Enter Brett Veach
In July of 2017, the Chiefs introduced a former Eagles scout and then-Chiefs co-director of player personnel as their new general manager. From that moment forwardm the race began between Veach and Ballard. Their tenures started just a few months apart. Ballard had a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback and a roster needing an overhaul. Veach 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 Veach, the reality is Dorsey made that selection. Veach’s fingerprints were all over the pick, but ultimately, Dorsey made the trade to bring Kansas City’s hero home. This is significant, as 2017 was more or less a “lame duck” season for Veach.
The draft was over, all major free agents had been signed and the roster was practically ready for camp. Ballard had a head start, in a sense, yet the 2017 Colts struggled. Andrew Luck never got healthy, Chuck Pagano was fired and Josh McDaniels bailed on his commitment to replace Pagano.
Making a difference where it matters
When talking about Chris Ballard and the success he has had as a general manager, most will begin with the 2018 draft. Ballard moved back from pick No. 3 in a trade 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 cogs of 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 began a key trend for Ballard- hitting home runs on positions that matter the least. For example, Jonathan Taylor is one of the best running backs in the league and yet even his dominance couldn’t lift the Colts to the playoffs in 2021. In 2020, the Colts gave up their first-round pick to acquire Deforrest Buckner and sign him to a mega-deal. Buckner is a game wrecker (make no doubt about it), but even as a top-five defensive tackle, he’s yet to have a double-digit sack season as a Colt.
Typically, around March, NFL media praises Ballard because he managed to acquire a quarterback for just a second or third-round pick or signing Phillip Rivers for next to nothing. While it does seem savvy to be able to gain a starting quarterbac for mid-level picks, you tend to get what you are paying for.
Moving on from Carson Wentz to the current version of Matt Ryan isn’t exactly something to celebrate. Additionally, the Colts continue to have holes at some of the most important spots on a roster: wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher and corner. The Colts' roster is strongest where it matters least.
It’s important to note that the unforeseen retirement of Luck completely changed Chris Ballard’s time in Indianapolis. When he took the job, he believed that he had an elite quarterback on the roster. Then that all changed in the middle of a preseason game.
Veach has a future Pro Football Hall of Famer at quarterback, and Ballard is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic with Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz.
What if the Chiefs hired Chris Ballard?
Would there still be two Lombardi trophies 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 Veach and Ballard is their aggressiveness. Veach has made huge swings in free agency, the draft and via trade to make the Chiefs roster great. He madethe trade to bring a pass rusher (Frank Clark) that was key to winning Super Bowl LIV. He went out and signed a top free-agent safety (Tyrann Mathieu) to help finish off a complete defensive rebuild. Ballard has been much more conservative in all elements of roster building and it can be argued that it has cost them.
It’s been easy to criticize Veach in the early going, as he (like all GMs) has had some missteps. 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 the Hall of Fame combination of Mahomes and Reid. While it can be interesting to wonder what Ballard would look like as the Chiefs’ general manager, it’s safe to say fans were quite pleased with the end result — at least one championship.