The Indianapolis Colts trading up in order to pick a quarterback has been one of the most popular moves of the early mock draft season. During combine week alone, mock drafts from ESPN, Pro Football Focus and CBS Sports projected the Colts to move up the board to grab a signal caller.
But Colts general manager Chris Ballard pushed back on that narrative, sending the message that there’s no automatic formula to landing a great rookie quarterback.
“Who’s to say we won’t get one at 4?” Ballard asked while speaking to the media on March 1.
There’s one obvious benefit Ballard and the Colts could see with the team’s push back on the idea of trading up for a quarterback.
The NFL Draft’s Game of ‘Cat and Mouse’
Ballard is walking a fine line this offseason. A lot of Colts fans probably want to see the team’s general manager be more aggressive about acquiring a star quarterback.
But the problem is if Ballard expresses his desire too publicly, then the Colts could lose leverage in any trade negotiations they engage in to move up the draft board.
Ballard elected his tone be much closer to the latter when speaking to reporters at the NFL combine on March 1.
“There’s gotta be a guy worthy of it, okay?” Ballard said. ”Everybody has just automatically stamped that you’ve got to move up to [No.] 1 to get it right. I don’t know if I agree with that, I don’t.”
The Athletic’s James Boyd described the situation as a “cat and mouse game.”
The Colts aren’t just deciding what quarterbacks they like in the 2023 class. They also have to determine whether they will be available at No. 4, where the Colts currently sit with their first pick.
The Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals sit ahead of Indianapolis in the draft order. It’s unlikely that either the Bears or Cardinals take a quarterback, but if the Colts don’t move up the board, Chicago and Arizona could trade their picks to another team who could draft a signal caller.
The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain reported on March 1 that Chicago plans to shop the No. 1 pick. The Athletic’s Zak Keefer also tweeted on March 1 that Arizona is open to listening to trade offers for their No. 3 selection.
Chris Ballard’s Past Draft Strategy
There’s definitely a motivation for Ballard to publicly play hard ball about the possibility of trading up in the NFL draft. But his comments on March 1 also gel with what he’s said in the past.
“If we thought there’s a player that we’re driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better, that’s what we would do [trade up],” said Ballard in his end of the season press conference on January 10.
Ballard has also made it very clear in the past that he will not be bullied into drafting a quarterback.
“Taking one [a quarterback] will get y’all off my ass for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn’t play well? I’m gonna be the first one run out of the building,” Ballard said in a video conference during January 2021. “I promise you that position never leaves my mind.”
That comment resurfaced last fall when the Matt Ryan traded didn’t work out for Ballard as the team hoped. During the season, ESPN’s Stephen Holder criticized Ballard for his lack of aggressiveness with drafting quarterbacks.
While appearing as a guest on Kevin & Query on 107.5 The Fan on November 30, Holder also shared what he thinks Ballard is looking for in a rookie quarterback.
“He wants the sure thing at quarterback,” Holder said. “Here’s the problem — there isn’t one. Unless you’re picking like first in the draft, there really isn’t one.
“That’s part of the problem, and that is one of the difficulties that Chris Ballard is going to have to get past if he’s making the quarterback decision for this team next year.”
It’s possible Ballard’s March 1 comments were just a smokescreen. But according to Holder, it’s also possible that Ballard will not be interested in trading up this year unless the Colts view one of the draft’s quarterbacks as the next Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.