Chris Ballard was nervous. He paced the draft room, fearing that the trade he had just made would cost him the players he still wanted. The Colts general manager couldn’t sit still. His mind did not relax.
Should they go back?
Did they miss their chance?
“Hey,” his assistant general manager chimed in. “Let’s relax and stay here.”
It might as well be part of Ed Dodds’ job description: keep it cool when the boss gets hot.
It was last month. The second night of the draft. The Colts had fallen 11 spots in the second round and landed an additional third-round pick. Ballard knew what he wanted – a big tight end from Virginia named Jelani Woods, and quite possibly the left tackle of the team’s future in Bernhard Raimann of central Michigan.
But would they still be there?
The Colts had grabbed a receiver at No. 53 in Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce. Now they were waiting. And all the while, Ballard began to believe his patience would come at a price.
So Dodds, Ballard’s assistant general manager and de facto No. 2, spoke up.
“I’ll bet you $20 they’ll both be there,” he said.
Ballard sat on the spikes.
The Colts took Woods 73rd and Raimann 77th. No word on whether Dodds collected on the bet.
“I sweated for an hour and a half,” Ballard said in the newsroom, after telling everyone Woods was the pick at 73. “Get Jelani on the phone. How about that? Holy shit.
If Ballard is the face of the Colts front office, Dodds is the engine. Ballard is outspoken and talkative, left to answer publicly for his team’s successes and failures. Dodds is rarely seen and almost never heard of. He’s much more reserved, content to grind in the shadows, an old-school scout with a penchant for keeping it real. The two date back 25 years to Texas A&M-Kingsville in the mid-1990s when both decided that everything they were going to do in life was going to involve football.
Together, they’ve navigated the choppy waters of the past few years: Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement, the Colts carousel that followed at quarterback, the Jacksonville meltdown in January.
“I like to think our ability to handle adversity is really high,” Dodds says. “But you don’t get that without going through that.”
For the executive who once chewed up his own scouts, telling them in 2019, “We ain’t done shit yet…we’ve won a fucking game of jokers,” there was no time to s ‘dwell on the end of 2021. The Colts have collapsed. As simple as that.
The next day, Dodds went to work.
“I don’t sit here soaking up shit like this,” he said four months later. “Like, I mean, you can’t change it. We had shit to do. You can’t sit here and piss and moan about it.
Dodds leads the Colts’ scouting department and has gone through the team’s entire player evaluation process since arriving after the 2017 draft. He built the schedule that scouts follow, taught them what it takes research the interviews, wrote the rating scale the team uses for each prospect, and every February walks them through the work of the winter that comes before the draft. The Colts roam each prospect’s tape as an entire team, debating and dissecting as a group. This year they only took four days off from mid-December to the draft weekend at the end of April. That’s 136 days in the building out of a possible 140, locked in the same dark room, stacking their board, player by player.
They ran from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
Dodds learned that from Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who signed him in Seattle and then watched him become one of his most trusted confidants: best not to think about the finish line. The days are long. The weeks drag on. The process can wear you out.
“Don’t even look when meetings are supposed to end,” Dodds tells his scouts at Indy. “It will go much better that way.”
(His rating scale derives from one that Hall of Fame Packers general manager Ron Wolf first wrote down in the 1980s. It ranks players from one to nine. The only nine ever dealt were from Wolf him (even, before the 1986 draft. The player was Bo Jackson.)
Since arriving in Indianapolis, Dodds has cemented his reputation as one of the best assessors in the game, and the league has taken notice. Six different franchises have called since 2020 asking him to interview him for their vacant general manager position: the Browns in 2020, the Panthers and Lions in 2021, and the Bears, Raiders and Steelers after last season.
Yet he’s still around, still working as Ballard’s No. 2. Dodds declined to interview the Browns in 2020. A year later, he withdrew his name after sitting down with the Panthers, then did the same this year after speaking with the Bears.
He knows the wrong fit when he sees it, he says.
“I mean, I’m going to look at every situation and I’m going to do my own research and, you know, a lot of people, I don’t know if they would say that publicly, but a lot of guys will. say, ‘Well, if it’s life-changing money,’ (they) go out there and say whatever they can to earn the job,” he said.
It’s not his MO never was.
“No, it’s not,” he continued. “I mean, there is a quality of life. You need to feel that you are being allowed to have an impact and do it the way you know you can. I mean, there’s more than one way to skin a cat – like, there’s other ways that work, but there’s one way that I know, and I’m not gonna learn a new way and become an expert at 42. This is not the training ground to do so.
In other words, Dodds believes in his approach. It is not a yes-man. He won’t be.
“I’m respectful and polite, but if they ask me a question, I’ll give them the answer that I think is the right course of action,” he said. “If they don’t want to do it that way, that’s fine, that’s their prerogative… they don’t have to. But (I tell them) what I would do.
As for the jobs Dodds remained in contention for, the Lions hired longtime Rams executive Brad Holmes as the new general manager in January 2021; the Raiders picked Patriots professional personnel manager Dave Ziegler last winter. The Steelers’ search for Kevin Colbert’s replacement is ongoing.
“I’m going to look at each one independently and make the best decision possible,” Dodds added. “And if it’s not (the best), I don’t want to waste their time. So if I look at it and I’m like, ‘No, that’s not quite the situation I’m interested in’, then I’m not going to (continue the process).”
One of the things Dodds is most proud of is how his scouts at Indy took ownership of the system he put in place. The process, he says, “literally took me two years to write.” It’s everything – from the journey it takes to scout more than 1,000 players during the college football season to what area scouts document in their reports to how they dig into a prospect’s background. (The Colts have used a private investigator in the past.)
“I would say the first two years was like having your hands on the throttle and the stick, constantly,” he said. “I felt like I was playing eight different roles.”
“I mean, it’s kind of a race on its own.”
As hard as he is on scouts, Dodds fights for them. He will go to Ballard and urge him to give more responsibility or more resources.
When necessary, he will play the peacemaker.
“When Chris gets pissed off,” Dodds says, “I’m going to jump in and say, ‘What’s going on here?'”
The Monday following the draft, Dodds sits down with Matt Terpening, the Colts’ assistant director of college scouting, and Mitch Chester, the team’s college scouting coordinator, to review the past 12 months. “What do we need to change? he will ask them. “What cracked? What worked?” Dodds will do the same with Kevin Rodgers and John Shaw on the professional staff side.
An old friend from Seattle, Gus Bradley, arrived this winter, tasked with taking over the defense. The coordinator who helped build the famed Legion of Boom unit, Bradley knew Dodds would be a weapon in the draft process as the Colts search for long defensive backs who could fit into his Cover-3 scheme.
“It’s an advantage now,” Bradley said. “He knows the system, knows the style of players we’re looking for…any question that may come up at 9:30 at night when they’re all in it (the draft room), I think he has a really good feeling.”
The question did pop up a few weeks ago. The second night of the draft was winding down and the Colts were out of options. A safety they had coveted for Bradley’s scheme, Maryland’s Nick Cross, fell.
Dodds looked at the work they had done: With their first three picks, the Colts had attacked their three biggest needs, adding a wide, a tight end and a left tackle.
“With everything filled in, you don’t push,” he said. “And it allows you to go get Nick Cross.”
The Colts came back in the third round and caught Cross at No. 96.
Ballard knows his number 2 won’t be around forever. The fact that Dodds lasted five years in Indianapolis probably comes as a surprise. He will be general manager at some point, run his own show and make the final decisions on draft night. So far, the past three years haven’t been good enough – and he knows it.
The Colts haven’t won a playoff game since the 2018 season.
As Dodds would say, no time to piss and moan about it. It’s time to fix it.
(Top photo courtesy of the Colts)