Chris Ballard's patience allows Colts to get big piece in Justin Houston

Slow and steady got the Colts a pass-rusher with pedigree in Justin Houston. Charlie Neibergall, File/AP

INDIANAPOLIS -- Are you surprised it took this long for the Indianapolis Colts to make their first significant move -- signing pass-rusher Justin Houston -- of free agency?

You shouldn't be.

Patience, patience and more patience is the message that Colts general manager Chris Ballard has been screaming from the top of Lucas Oil Stadium since he was hired two years ago.

The signing of Houston on Thursday is a prime example of that patience. The general manager sat back, watched the signing frenzy during the first wave of free agency this past week and waited for the price tag to drop on players who weren't signed. Simply put, the Colts don’t have a Black Friday spending mentality; it’s more of a Dollar General mentality.

That approach paid off, as the Colts gave Houston -- who had 22 sacks in 2014 season and was the best free agent still available -- to a two-year, $24 million contract.

"I love the way they play, their attitude, the effort they play with on the field," Houston said. "I just want to be another pass-rusher within the scheme that can cause some more headaches."

Ballard's patient approach in free agency wears thin on the fans who want the Colts to pounce the moment free agency starts. Ballard didn’t do that in 2018 and the Colts finished with a 10-6 record, making it to the divisional round of the playoffs. And as much as it might disappoint some, Ballard plans to continue to be deliberate when it comes to attacking the offseason. Houston joins receiver Devin Funchess as the only two outside free agents the Colts have signed so far.

Ballard has history with Houston from when he spent four years working in the Chiefs' front office. The two exchanged plenty of text messages while Houston was looking at his options.

"I think it played a huge role," Houston said about his relationship with Ballard. "He's a good guy. We've had a lot of contact going on. Just knowing him and the kind of guy he is -- somebody I can trust and just talk to knowing I've got an honest answer and to know exactly what he's looking for and feel like I can help played a large role."

The Colts used a sack-by-committee approach to finish with 38, which was tied for 19th in the league last season. They were 22nd in the league in pressure rate and 20th in sack rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their philosophy worked last season, but the truth is that they need a player who's going to cause opposing quarterbacks to pay extra attention to where he's lined up when he gets to the line of scrimmage.

Houston, who has 78.5 sacks in his career, is that type of player and gives the Colts their first high-impact pass-rusher since Robert Mathis. Mathis had 19.5 sacks in 2013. Only one Colts player -- Erik Walden -- has cracked double digits in sacks since.

Despite missing 21 games over the past four seasons, Houston still has managed to record 30 sacks.

One of the biggest changes Houston will have to make is going from standing up in a 3-4 defense in Kansas City to playing with his hand on the ground in Matt Eberflus' 4-3 defense with the Colts. Houston thinks his job will be "easier than it has been in the past" because he doesn't have to worry about dropping into coverage.

The Colts could be looking at a talented starting defensive line, with Houston and Jabaal Sheard on the edges at defensive end to go with Denico Autry and Margus Hunt in the interior. Those four players combined for 28.5 sacks last season.

That's a good thing considering the Colts will be facing the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers next season.

"I feel like they've got the pieces they need and feel like I can help them continue to go in the right direction," Houston said. "They were young and they still played great last year. They had a great team, they continued to build, and I just wanted to be a part of that."

Ballard didn't put a full-court press on immediately. He showed patience, and that patience paid off, as he signed a player he's familiar with -- one who addresses one of their most pressing needs.