INDIANAPOLIS – After Carson Wentz and before Matt Ryan, there was talk of Deshaun Watson.
It was a brief dalliance, but coach Frank Reich confirmed the Indianapolis Colts at least considered reloading at their most influential position with the former Houston Texans’ embattled quarterback.
“We vet everybody out,’’ he said this week on a radio appearance on Dan Sileo’s The National Football show. “Deshaun was an option.
“Chris (Ballard) reached out to (the Texans) to see, ‘Would you even consider it)?’. And the answer was no so it was a short process.’’
On one level, it’s something of a surprise the Colts even considered Watson. Although two Houston grand juries have declined to indict him on criminal charges, Watson still is facing possible civil action regarding 22 allegations of sexual misconduct. Discipline from the NFL is possible.
But the fact the Colts at least considered Watson, four teams reached the final stages in his pursuit – Cleveland, Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina – and the Browns acquired him in a trade with Houston and gave him a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract speaks to the importance of landing a top-tier quarterback.
Teams show great tolerance for a player’s off-field issues if he possesses great talent. Watson, 26, was selected to three Pro Bowls in four seasons with the Texans and led the NFL with 4,823 yards in 2020, the last time he stepped on the field. His 67.8 career completion percentage is tops in NFL history while his 104.5 rating ranks 3rd behind Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
While the Colts wound up with Ryan, he wasn’t their primary target when they traded Wentz to the Washington Commanders March 9. In fact, the Atlanta Falcons’ career passing leader wasn’t even in the discussion.
“I didn’t think Matt Ryan was going to be available,’’ Reich said. “When we made the move with Carson, Matt Ryan wasn’t on the radar screen.’’
That changed roughly 10 days ago when the Falcons were spurned by Watson and Ryan decided it was in his best interest to relocate after 14 seasons in Atlanta.
“Then, ‘Matt Ryan’s on the radar? Shoot, and we have a chance to draw that card? Look how that card fits in the rest of our hand,’’’ Reich said. “We always want to draft and go young, but you can’t say that’s an absolute rule.
“We didn’t go into this thing thinking it has to be a veteran guy because we’re built to win right now. Do we feel like we’re build to win right now? Absolutely. But as Chris and Mr. Irsay and I talked it through, you don’t know what cards you’re going to be dealt.’’
Reich now has been dealt his fifth different starting quarterback as he enters his fifth season as head coach.
Ryan, he insisted, is the right “fit.’’
“Matt’s really excited for this chance, for that kind of second stage, a final act to what has already been an amazing career,’’ Reich said. “Believe me, we’re equally as excited.
“I just feel it’s the right time and the right place and it’s the right fit. He fits into our system well and I think he’ll bring elements to our offense that will help us take that next step.’’
Reich had no previous relationship with Ryan prior to the Monday trade, but has “respected this guy.’’
“Just watching him from afar, this guy has elite accuracy, he’s an elite leader, he’s had a consistency,’’ he said. “Look at his numbers year-in and year-out, how consistent he has been over and over again throughout his career.’’
Ryan, who turns 37 in May, ranks in the top 10 in most meaningful passing categories: 8th with 59,735 yards; 9th with 367 touchdowns, a 65.5 completion percentage and 8,003 attempts; 7th with 5,242 completions; and 13th with a 94.2 rating. He was the NFL’s MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and led the Falcons to Super Bowl LI.
“To bring that to a good team I’m very excited about,’’ Reich said.
Reich stresses ball security, accuracy and decisiveness.
Ryan’s 2.1% interception rate is tied for 10th-lowest in NFL history, and he’s suffered more than 14 in a season only twice. He’s completed at least 66% of his passes eight times, including 67% last season.
While praising Ryan’s addition, Reich also remained supportive of Wentz.
“I still believe in Carson,’’ he said. “I think Carson’s going to play a lot of good football. I think he’s going to be very successful this year and I’m pulling for him, I really am. I love the guy, have a close relationship with him.’’
Reich didn’t elaborate on the team’s decision to move on from Wentz after one season. Irsay was the driving force behind the trade.
“It’s always a complex situation,’’ Reich said. “There’s always a lot of factors that go into it. At the end of the day, Mr. Irsay, Chris and myself are always going to do what we think is the best move for the organization and the team.’’
Wentz’s inability to play at an effective level in the final two crippling losses to the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars was only a contributing factor to the team’s decision to seek a trade. The Colts had a 98% chance of making the playoffs before the late collapse.
Reich insisted it was an “odd situation’’ and added “first of all, it wasn’t all on him. The failure that we had at the end of the season was all of us, starting with me, the head coach. We just didn’t get it done.
“Carson is not the scapegoat.’’
During an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show, Ballard noted Wentz “played good football for us,’’ but added management had to determine what was in the best interest of the team for the upcoming season and beyond.
The prevailing question: were the Colts willing to stick with Wentz?
“Yeah, we talked about that,’’ Ballard said. “But then we had a chance to move him.
“For us it was just a matter of we needed to find somebody that we really thought was a good fit here in both the short and long term. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.’’
Wentz, Ballard added, is “a good person. It was a really difficult decision. There were some tough moments, tough conversations. But at the end of the day we did what we thought was the best thing for us.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.