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Colts GM Chris Ballard confident in receiving corps after relatively quiet offseason

The Indianapolis Colts aren't one for the meaningless splash.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard disappointed some by not reeling in the biggest of fish in March, a reality that isn't the worst outcome for a team. It just stings a little more when said team is among those with the most salary cap space available and is coming off a playoff berth and wild-card exit.

The Colts did make moves, though -- they just refused to overpay to make a headline.

"We've got good players out of free agency, and we've been successful," Ballard told The Athletic's Robert Mays, via the Indianapolis Star. "We're just not the biggest fans of right out the gate free agency where you're paying B players A-plus money, which is gonna affect down the line. ... There's a cost to that."

It is often true the team that wins free agency doesn't end up winning a whole lot once the regular season arrives. One can point to the Eagles' "dream team" of a decade ago for an example of this resulting letdown, and they're far from the lone club to attract plenty of offseason attention before faltering in the fall.

Ballard also has the luxury of deciding to instead reinvest the Colts' liquid cash in players he selected and Indianapolis developed. That will include players like Shaquille Leonard this upcoming offseason and Quenton Nelson in the following offseason, both players taken by Ballard in the same draft class (2018), which means a spending spree isn't exactly the smartest approach for the Colts when they'll need to push some space into the future to retain their best.

"Our players know we want to keep them," Ballard said. "We've done a pretty good job so far of keeping the players we wanted to keep in-house. We feel like we have a really good ... I know culture gets thrown around, but we do. I think we have a really good culture. It's one of accountability. One where they care about each other, and one where they want to win and do special things."

Culture speak is fine when you're making the playoffs. Indianapolis did that in 2020 with a stopgap of a veteran in Philip Rivers, who performed valiantly in his lone season with the Colts before tightening his bolo tie and riding off into the sunset. But with a question mark bigger than ever at quarterback heading into 2021 and a roster clearly capable of contending for the AFC South crown, culture alone isn't enough to answer the most pressing matters.

Enter Carson Wentz, a player the Colts did not sign as a free agent, but acquired via trade. He was also a player who took up a good chunk of that aforementioned cap space.

With needs elsewhere and planning necessary for 2022 and beyond, the Colts didn't end up landing a big-name receiver. It also wasn't exactly the class for securing a generational talent on the open market. The B player who got paid A-plus money -- new Jets wideout Corey Davis, or new Giants receiver Kenny Golladay, for example -- just didn't fit in Indianapolis' budget, or culture.

Instead, Ballard is doubling down on the talent he's already brought in, some of whom just might need a full year of healthy football to potentially evolve into a game-changing player.

"I'm betting on Michael Pittman, who I think's got a chance to be really good. I thought he ended the year strong. He had a big playoff game with over 100 yards," Ballard said. "Everybody just ignores Zach Pascal, but all he's done is catch (10) touchdowns over the last two years. And then getting Parris Campbell back is a big bonus and he's looked great during the offseason. We think we're a little better than other people do."

Oh, and along the way, Ballard managed to keep a beloved Colt in town for at least one more year.

"They're a talented group," Ballard said. "Is there a guy that, you know, you just line up and go, 'Holy crap man, how are we gonna stop this guy?' Maybe not, but they are really damn good players, and T.Y. Hilton can still play. He can still play. T.Y. Hilton is as competitive and as good a teammate as I've ever been around."

If you scroll down the Colts' official site to find an updated list of who they've added, the folks on their digital side have cleverly organized the list of changes. There's newcomers -- with Wentz atop that list -- followed by the list of unrestricted free agents who were Colts entering March. After a quick scroll, you'll see they haven't lost much at all, and they're on a steady pace of drafting, developing and supplementing that should allow Indianapolis to sustain relative success.

If Wentz ends up being the franchise quarterback they hope he is, they might not have as many needs as some may have thought just a few months ago.

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