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Jim Irsay applauds Chris Ballard for free agency moves

The Indianapolis Colts entered free agency with the most salary cap space to spend. General manager Chris Ballard sat on it.

And sat on it.

Spent a little.

Then sat some more.

While some Colts fans might have been frustrated by the lack of moves early in free agency given Indy's available wealth, owner Jim Irsay applauded his GM's prudent decisions.

"When free agency hit, we had the lines in the water on several other guys. We didn't get them," Irsay said, via Mike Chappell of FOX 59. "We could have got them. But Chris is very disciplined in his belief on how you build a team and it was great to see him stick to his discipline. Sometimes when we were bidding on someone -- an inside linebacker or whatever in free agency -- once the number exceeded a certain point, he's like 'No, we're going to walk away from this one.'

"I know he really, really wanted to bring the player in and when the number got to a certain thing, with the agent he's like, 'I'm out. That's just too much. I can't do it. I can't live with myself if I do it.

"I say bravo to that."

Irsay noted that he told Ballard to spend as much as he felt was necessary to build a winner. The GM responded by setting hard baselines in negotiations.

Ballard joined NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport on the *RapSheet and Friends* podcast this week and noted not going overboard is key to free agency.

"That first opening weekend of free agency is always interesting, just where the money goes," Ballard said. "We do have a lot of cap space, but saying that, we want to be prudent with the transactions that we make and the players that we sign. Keeping an eye on being able to compete now and add the players we need to win, but also keeping an eye on the future. We had price points that we said, 'If it gets to this (we're out)...' I just think when you get into free agency you've got to have some discipline, because what will happen is you get excited about the moment and you keep bidding up and bidding up. Where is the breakpoint? We have a breakpoint. It got to those points and we ended up backing out on some players. And that's OK."

Ballard added that the frugality in free agency isn't a one-year blip, but rather a philosophical cornerstone he holds as key to the franchise's future.

"We think there are certain things in the team-building, the way we're going to do it that we want to make sure that we're paying good value where they can play out the contract," he said. "I look at examples on our team, (Margus) Hunt did a two-year deal with us in that first round of free agency when we first got into Indy and we extended him. You'd like to get guys at good value for both the player and the club to where you're not looking up and there is such a high salary on the player and he's not quite performing to that level that you have to move on quickly. You don't want to just take a Band-Aid approach to team-building."

Outside of adding receiver Devin Funchess on a one-year deal, Ballard mostly re-signed his own players during the start of free agency. The big splash came late last week when the Colts landed veteran pass rusher Justin Houston. The move was smart by Ballard as it adds a proven pass rusher with juice left in the tank at a position of need at an affordable price -- and since he was cut by K.C. the move wouldn't figure into any comp pick formula.

Irsay underscored that Ballard's reluctance to go over his set price should help the Colts avoid overpaying on contracts that could hamstring the organization down the road.

"It doesn't take many ill-fated signings to destroy your cap and destroy your strength," Irsay said. "Ill-fated spending never turns out to be anything positive.

"I can assure you Colts fans should really take comfort in the leadership we have with coach and with Chris."

The Colts appear poised to use their cap space to get deals done with their own 2020 free agents down the road, like left tackle Anthony Castonzo, tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, or defensive end Jabaal Sheard. Ballard also told Rapoport that keeping Funchess on a longer-term deal is in the cards if the receiver lives up to expectations during his one-year contract.

Irsay added that saving cap space now could help the team add a piece during the season.

"We want to be one of the few teams that when a great player becomes available in October, maybe before the trade deadline, 'Hey, the Colts have room to get him, most teams don't,'" he said. "We want to be an opportunistic organization and be wise."

Ballard might not provide splashy headlines for fans in March, but his prudent spending is setting up the Colts to be successful for years to come, if he hits on his draft picks once again.

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