Ballard, Reich extensions give Indy more pieces for future

WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts expect to win now.

They’re also looking ahead to what they believe will be an even brighter future.

On Wednesday, team officials announced coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard had signed contract extensions, keeping both with the team through 2026. Financial terms were not immediately available.

“For me as a head coach, the most exciting thing is the chance to keep working with Chris,” Reich said after practice. “Along with Mr. Irsay, we get to take this team down the path we think it’s headed. Bright things are ahead.”

Reich was not scheduled to speak with reporters Wednesday and did not take questions. Ballard also was not available to reporters.

But both have already made their intentions clear.

Reich, entering his fourth season, and Ballard, in his fifth with the team, believe they’ve built a championship contender even as they’ve used the early portion of training camp to bet big on future seasons.

They signed right tackle Braden Smith to a four-year, $72 million in late July. And while recent ankle surgery kept two-time All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard off the field for the first two weeks of camp, he returned to practice Tuesday — two days after agreeing to a new five-year deal worth nearly $100 million.

Now the Colts have their coach and general manager under contract long term, too.

“We have as great a general manager/head coach combination as there is in the NFL, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to have them leading our franchise,” team owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. “I truly believe this football team is on the doorstep of great things, and that’s because of the culture both have cultivated in their time with the horseshoe. Whether we are marching toward the playoffs or facing adversity, whether we are building our roster or making a difference in the community, we have the ideal leaders in Chris and Frank.”

It’s not just what the Colts have done in the past month.

Last year, Ballard acquired All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade with San Francisco and immediately gave him a four-year, $84 million extension. Before last year’s regular-season opener, starting center Ryan Kelly signed a four-year, $50 million deal. In November, defensive tackle Grover Stewart cashed with a three-year deal worth $30.75 million and in March, Ballard traded for quarterback Carson Wentz who has three years left on the four-year, $128 million contract he signed with Philadelphia.

What does all this mean for the Colts?

“Continuity. It’s what we’ve built here with Frank,” new offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. “It’s just great.”

Injuries also have forced Indy into peeking at some other future options.

Wentz has been sidelined by a foot injury since the third day of camp, giving extra snaps to second-year quarterback Jacob Eason and rookie Sam Ehlinger. Wentz had surgery last week and could miss the Sept. 12 season opener against Seattle. He’s expected to miss five to 12 weeks.

Second-year center Danny Pinter is filling in for Kelly, who has been out with a hyperextended left elbow.

Buckner has missed the last couple of days with a foot injury, giving extra time to three-year veteran Tyquan Lewis.

And with the Carolina Panthers coming to town for joint practices Thursday and Friday, the younger guys will get plenty of chances to show what they can do.

“They’re both progressing,” Brady said when asked about the two untested quarterbacks. “They’re gaining confidence in the offense so they can make reads and decisions much quicker.”

But keeping Reich, who has taken the Colts to the playoffs twice, and Ballard, who has made three key deals and drafted well since arriving in 2017, around for five more years could be just as important.

“Could not be more excited the roster that has been build and the direction we are headed,” Reich said.

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