INDIANAPOLIS -- Finally.
For years the Indianapolis Colts headed into the offseason with storylines that often lingered into the next season. Now, for the first time since 2014, they go into the offseason focused soley on trying to improve the roster.
No questions about the future of the head coach.
No questions about the future of the general manager.
No questions about the relationship between the head coach and general manager.
No questions about the health of the franchise quarterback.
It only took five years for that to happen.
Former coach Chuck Pagano and former general manager Ryan Grigson's fractured relationship hurt the franchise, and there was three years of nonstop talk about quarterback Andrew Luck's right shoulder. All those issues factored into three straight seasons of missing the playoffs.
It was evident the Colts didn't have to worry about those things this season because they had a new head coach, a general manger with a clear vision and a healthy quarterback.
Their best record -- 10-6 -- since, well, the Colts didn't have any distractions when they finished 11-5 and reached the AFC Championship Game in 2014.
"It's going to be the first normal -- if there is such thing as a normal -- offseason," general Chris Ballard said. "But it is going to be nice to just be able to dial in, 'Alright, here's the things we need to get better at.'"
The only coaching change Frank Reich and Ballard have to worry about is finding a new offensive line coach, as Dave DeGuglielmo was fired and assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson is headed to the Buffalo Bills.
One of the biggest factors that helps Ballard is that there are no longer any lingering doubts about Luck's health. It took 25 minutes until Ballard was asked his first question about his quarterback during his 48-minute season-ending news conference this week.
The Colts will have more than $120 million in salary-cap space as one avenue to turn to when they attempt to go from "good" to "great" next season. Ballard was steadfast in saying they will look to sign free agents, but he'll do it judiciously because he wants to "stay the course" in his desire to build through the draft.
"We are going to continue to explore every avenue to acquire players," Ballard said. "I guess I disagree sometimes when everybody says we are not aggressive in free agency. Just because it might not be who the media is writing about and who the fans are talking about, that doesn't mean that guy isn't a really good player. ... We put a value on a player, and when it gets out of our reach I just think we are comfortable enough to sleep at night saying we are going to find an answer.
"Sometimes it might not be the household name that everybody wants us to sign, and that's okay. I get it. But we are going to find an answer, whether it's in that first window of free agency, maybe it's the second window, maybe it's the draft, maybe it's after the draft, maybe it's at the cut-down day. There are times to acquire players at all points during the season."
What Saturday's AFC divisional round playoff loss to Kansas City showed even more is that the Colts need pass-rushers and also need to give T.Y. Hilton help at receiver.
Ballard's vision is similar to what former Colts general manager Bill Polian had in being selective with free agents while focusing on re-signing their home-grown talent. Ballard recalled a moment this season when he looked out on the field at the 50-yard line when Reggie Wayne was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor and saw the likes of Peyton Manning, Robert Mathis, Edgerrin James and Jeff Saturday in attendance.
"All the great players and I just looked at them and I said 'you know what is consistent with those guys? They are good dudes, they are good guys, they are good teammates,'" Ballard said. "They connected, they all have relationships with each other. That resonated with me. In my mindset, it's always something you want and you strive for, but to me, that really cemented it that day.
"I am looking over and I am saying that is what we want to be. I want to look up 15 years from now and we got 10-12 players and somebody going into the Ring of Honor and they all still got these connecting relationships ... and they went through the struggle and had great success because of it."
The same way Polian, former coach Tony Dungy and Manning were linked together, Ballard wants the same out of himself, Reich and Luck.
"I think just because you have all this [cap] space, just look at the roster and look at the contracts that are going to be coming up over the next two- to three-year period and you are going to see -- eventually what you would like to happen is you are paying your own guys," he said.