Matt Ryan has been traded to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a third-round selection in 2022, bringing his 14-year tenure in Atlanta to an end.
Year after year, free agency begins and the Indianapolis Colts are nowhere to be found in the headlines. Offseason trades, though? That’s an entirely different story. On Monday, the Colts traded for 2016 MVP, Matt Ryan, hours before his 2022 salary became fully guaranteed. In doing so, the team finally addressed the most pressing need on the roster.
While Chris Ballard moved stealthy behind the scenes, the entire football world couldn’t help but wonder what he had up his sleeve. From the moment the team heard that Ryan would potentially be available in the event of a Deshaun Watson trade to Atlanta, Ballard never relented in his efforts to land the signal-caller. Even after the Watson move fell through, he stayed in contact with Falcons’ general manager Terry Fontenot and it eventually paid off.
Matt Ryan is on his way to Indianapolis to become the sixth different week one starting quarterback in as many seasons for the Colts. The price is a third-round pick in this years’ NFL Draft. The contract details include: 2 years, $51 million (23.75m in 2022, 28m in 2023). That is more than manageable for a team with $40 million available in cap space. Considering he would only bring a loss of $3.2 million if he’s cut following the 2022 season, this is the ultimate no-risk move.
Last season was an ugly one for the Falcons as a whole. Matt Ryan didn’t have a full stable of wide receivers at any point during the campaign. This resulted in some very bad stretches of football. Ryan deserves some blame for the part he played in those spurts, but he was in one of the worst possible positions to succeed and still kept the team competitive late into second halves.
The Colts’ season was not much smoother. They had much higher highs than the Falcons, but arguably even lower lows across the final two weeks. After trading Carson Wentz for two, day-two selections — one in 2022, the other in 2023 — Chris Ballard is flipping the 2022 pick to Atlanta for his replacement. To many, this may look like a lateral move on paper but over the course of the past four seasons, Matt Ryan holds a 67% completion percentage. For reference, Carson Wentz is a career 62% passer.
Big whoop, five percent, who cares? Well that difference is arguably what put a ceiling on the team in 2021. Wentz has a higher upside as a player at his current age, but he has a tendency to consistently make the easy plays harder than they have to be. With Ryan, you have a better idea of what you’re getting on a snap-by-snap basis. Wentz is more talented, but Ryan is better suited for the system in place with the Indianapolis Colts.
Look no further than the 2020 season to get a glimpse of what Matt Ryan could look like in the blue and white. Philip Rivers came to the team a shell of his former self, but because he consistently made the easy plays, the teams’ ceiling was higher. This is a big reason why they made the playoffs in Rivers’ lone season, while propping him up and supporting him with a lethal run game.
There are game managers that have limitations, but guys with that much experience and years’ of success give a different edge when they’re the ones managing the game. A star veteran that can humble himself into becoming a supporting piece is a commodity to have in the locker room. Ryan has witnessed all there is to witness, outside of a Super Bowl victory. With that comes loads of invaluable experience.
Indianapolis Colts Land Matt Ryan, What’s Next for the Roster?
Matt Ryan ultimately signed off on the trade because he feels that the Colts’ roster presents a “win-now” opportunity. Many agree with that assessment, as do I. However, there are still some positions that MUST be upgraded to get the best out of the soon-to-be 37-year old quarterback. The left tackle spot is chief among them, with Matt Pryor and Will Fries highlighting that group at the moment.
Outside of budding star Michael Pittman Jr., the wide receiver position is pretty bare as well. Adding to that, stalwart tight end Jack Doyle retired this offseason leaving a bunch of snaps up for grabs. Mo Allie-Cox was brought back on a multi-year deal and 2021 fourth-round pick Kylen Granson figures to take a second-year leap in Frank Reich’s system, but another body is needed on the depth chart.
The defensive side is another story, altogether. It is loaded with young, elite talent. This will likely change when the team brings in a veteran cornerback, but there isn’t a single starter on the defense over the age of 28 as of this post. That is unreal for a team that has been a top-ten unit over much of the past few seasons.
The Indianapolis Colts are no longer armed with deep pockets, but the ~$16 million in available cap space should still be able to fetch a couple of solid veterans. They’ve added starters in every draft Chris Ballard as been a part of, so it’s also fair to assume there are some rookie reinforcements on the way.
Matt Ryan and Indianapolis are the perfect marriage. Much like former quarterback Philip Rivers, Ryan’s time is dwindling and he wants a chance at one more postseason run. The Colts’ roster is so well-rounded that all they need is a steady hand to guide the way. They are much better as a team today than they were last week, all the while maintaining future flexibility. No more excuses for missing the playoffs, it is time to get the Shoe back to playing football deep into January.