Why Colts Genrral Manager Chris Ballard expects Michael Pittman Jr. to remain with Indianapolis

Michael Pittman Jr. spent the first four years of his career with the Indianapolis Colts. The impending free-agent wide receiver will most likely spend his fifth one in Indianapolis, too.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard didn’t explicitly say Wednesday at the NFL combine that his team’s top receiver will be franchise tagged by the March 5 deadline if they aren’t able to agree to a long-term deal. However, he didn’t rule it out and effectively dismissed the possibility of Pittman playing elsewhere in 2024.

When asked if he believes Pittman will be a Colt in September one way or another, Ballard simply said, “Yes.”


Ballard’s stance essentially confirmed what was pretty obvious: Indianapolis most likely won’t allow Pittman to reach free agency on March 13, so now it’s a numbers game.


Pittman would be paid $21.8 million in 2024 if he played on the one-year franchise tag, but he said at the end of the regular season that he would prefer a long-term deal with the possibility of testing the open market. The 26-year-old probably won’t get the chance to be courted by other franchises, though negotiations are ongoing with the Colts.


“We’ve had talks with his agent (Andrew Kessler), who is really good,” Ballard said. “His agent has been doing it a long time. He’s really good at what he does. We’ll work hard to get a deal done.”


Ballard added that he views the franchise tag as “a tool” and didn’t rule out using it.


Pittman has become vital to the Colts’ offensive success, and it may also be vital to the development of promising young QB Anthony Richardson, who appeared in just four games last season before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury.


If the Colts were to franchise tag Pittman, it would be the first time the team has tagged a player in Ballard’s eight-year tenure and the first time overall since punter Pat McAfee was tagged in 2013. Pittman would also be the second premier receiver to be franchise tagged this offseason, joining Cincinnati Bengals wideout Tee Higgins.


The Colts would then have until July 15 to agree on a long-term deal with their top target. Pittman’s projected value on the open market is a four-year deal worth $90.9 million, according to Spotrac, which compared his earning potential to Washington’s Terry McLaurin, Chicago’s DJ Moore, Seattle’s DK Metcalf and Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown, who all signed lucrative extensions in 2022.

I don’t think anybody would be displeased with ($21.8) million,” Pittman said at the end of the season. “ … The franchise tag is almost like a sign of respect. Obviously, you get paid at the top five of your position, but do I necessarily want to play on one? No. I do not want to play on the tag, but you can use that to work toward a long-term deal as well.”


Pittman, a 2020 second-round pick, has compiled 336 catches for 3,662 yards and 15 TDs across his first four seasons. After his rookie year, he emerged as the Colts’ No. 1 receiver and had a career year in 2023 with 109 catches for 1,152 yards and four TDs. Pittman became the fourth player in franchise history to register 100-plus catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, joining Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison Jr., potential Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne and former first-team All Pro Dallas Clark.


Ballard has raved about Pittman’s tenacity on the field and his directness off it, which may help both sides eventually see eye-to-eye when it’s time to negotiate a deal.


“We have an interesting relationship. One that is really good, but it is no doubt honest, blunt honest, which I like,” Ballard said. “Any time he comes to my office, one day he came in and I go, ‘What?!’ And he goes, ‘I was just checking in,’ and I said ‘Good, you can come in then.’ He cares about winning. … The one thing you never have to worry about with that guy is he empties the tank. He absolutely empties the tank.”


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