INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts are turning to another accomplished veteran to stabilize their most influential yet unstable position.
The team has acquired quarterback Matt Ryan in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons. The cost: a 2022 3rd-round pick (82nd overall). The Colts also assume the next two years of Ryan’s contract. He’ll count $23.7 million against the 2022 salary cap and $28 million in 2023.
Ryan turns 37 in May, is entering his 15th season and extends the Colts’ search for a viable option at quarterback since Andrew Luck retired August 24, 2019.
From Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz to the NFL’s 2016 MVP and Falcons’ all-time passing leader. The Colts will field a different opening-day starting quarterback for a sixth consecutive season and fifth time in Frank Reich’s five seasons as head coach.
Ryan’s arrival in Indy is the latest QB domino to fall – Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson – and ends any speculation general manager Chris Ballard might opt to trade for San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo or Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield to fill the void created when he sent Wentz to the Washington Commanders earlier this month.
Transitioning to Ryan was made possible when Atlanta decided it was time to reboot as an organization. The Falcons first pursued Watson and appeared to be in position to finalize a trade with the Houston Texans, but that fell through when he went to Cleveland for a five-year, $230 million contract, all guaranteed.
Ballard pointed out the experience (14 seasons, 222 regular-season starts) brings to the roster.
“Matt’s leadership and skillset will complement our roster’s growth and success,’’ he said in a team release.
Added Reich: “I’ve long admired Matt for his steady, methodical approach to the game. He is one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league and has spreadheaded numerous fourth quarter game-winning drives.
“I’m excited to get to work with him and the rest of the team this offseason.’’
Atlanta owner Arthur Blank took to social media to express his appreciation for a player who had been the face of his franchise for the past 14 seasons.
“Matt Ryan has been the epitome of a franchise quarterback during his time here in Atlanta,’’ Blank said. “He has represented this organization with great class, professionalism and leadership, both on and off the field, over the past 14 years.
“It is difficult to overstate what he has meant to me personally, our organization, his teammates and our fans . . . His arrival in 2008 instantly made us a contender in the NFC and he’s been our quarterback through the most successful era in Falcons history.’’
Blank pointed to the Falcons reaching the playoffs six times in Ryan’s 14 seasons and advancing to Super Bowl LI after the 2016 season where they lost 34-28 in overtime to New England despite leading 28-3 midway through the third quarter.
“He will one day be added to our Ring of Hour and it is my belief that a bust in Canton will follow in short order,’’ Blank said.
Blank also stated the obvious.
“This business is not without its difficult decisions,’’ he said, “and while this is one of the most difficult decisions we have faced as a club, we feel it is in the best long-term interests of both the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan.’’
The Colts believed they had solved their quarterback predicament 13 months ago when they acquired Wentz in a trade with Philadelphia for 3rd– and 1st-round draft picks.
However, the team’s late collapse last season – closing losses to the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, which kept it out of the playoffs – coupled with Wentz falling out of favor with owner Jim Irsay, led to yet another reboot.
Ballard was able to mitigate the cost of acquiring Wentz when he received a pair of 3rd-round draft picks from the Commanders; one in 2023 becomes a 2nd-rounder if Wentz plays 70% of the time.
Ryan obviously is on the downside of a decorated career, but represents a reasonable short-term bridge to whichever QB is deemed the long-term answer. It’s entirely possible Ballard looks for a prospect in the April draft and allows him to learn while playing behind Ryan.
The only other quarterbacks on the roster are 2021 6th-round pick Sam Ehlinger and James Morgan. Neither has attempted a pass in the regular season.
“Ultimately you have to have a guy who you believe in, and you can win with,’’ Ballard said of the NFL Scouting Combine.
Ryan is 120-102 as a starter, has led Atlanta to seven winning seasons and six playoff appearances. In 2016, he was MVP and Offensive Player of the Year while leading the Falcons to Super Bowl LI.
He’s been one of the NFL’s most durable players regardless of position. Ryan has missed just three of a possible 225 regular-season games. He’s started every game in 12 of 14 seasons.
On the flipside, the Falcons have endured four consecutive losing seasons, which undoubtedly was the impetus of their decision to rebuild without Ryan. In 2021, Ryan finished with 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 90.4 passer rating (18th in the NFL; Wentz’s 94.6 was 13th). He passed for 3,968 yards, snapping his streak of 10 seasons with at least 4,000.
Ballard also was asked which traits were required for the Colts’ next QB.
“I can give you a typical accuracy, leadership, makes crucial plays that win,’’ he said. “Ultimately it’s the most scrutinized position in sports. It is. I think it’s one of the most difficult to play in sports.
“You’re playing a position where you’re trying to make accurate throws with people trying to actually hurt you. Then, the scrutiny that comes into play week-to-week. It’s a week-to-week league, so handling the ups and downs of it and staying the course . . . there’s so much that goes into it.’’
Ryan has established himself as one of the most prolific and efficient quarterbacks in NFL history. He ranks 8th with 59,735 yards, 9th with 367 touchdowns and tied-9th by completing 65.5% of his passes. He’s directed 42 game-winning drives, tied for 7th-most.
Ballard noted at the Scouting Combine it’s also imperative for his quarterback to be surrounded by a solid supporting cast.’’
“Having a team around him that can win,’’ he said. “Not just him, but having a team.’’
The Falcons have deteriorated around Ryan over the last four seasons. Their defense has ranked 26th, 29th, 20th and 28th last season.
Offensively, Atlanta has been among the NFL’s worst at protecting the quarterback and running the football. Since 2018, Ryan has been sacked 173 times, second to Wilson’s 179, and the Falcons have averaged 91 yards per game, 31st in the league.
The Colts have work to do in strengthened their offense, but they feature league rushing champion Jonathan Taylor – a franchise-record 1,811 yards last season – and a pass protection scheme that has allowed 103 sacks the past four years, tied for fewest in the league.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.