Jim Irsay

Falcons Shopped Matt Ryan Before Deshaun Watson Decision; Team Expected To Land Watson

Matt Ryan trade buzz picked up in the days following Deshaun Watson‘s decision to waive his no-trade for the Browns, but the Falcons had begun discussing its 14-year quarterback with teams before Watson committed.

As the Falcons pursued Watson, they shopped Ryan, Zak Keefer of The Athletic reports (subscription required). This came as most among the Falcons assumed the embattled Texans quarterback “was theirs.” Watson is from Georgia and spent time as a Falcons ball boy as a child.

This gibes with what came out in March, when a report indicated Watson was speaking with free agents — Jarvis Landry and Leonard Fournette among them — about joining him in Atlanta. Jadeveon Clowney later said he would probably have signed with the Falcons had Watson chosen to waive his no-trade clause to be dealt to Atlanta. The Falcons were also competing with the Panthers and Saints for Watson, but on the night before the trade went down, the Falcons had expected to land the Pro Bowl quarterback. The Browns’ fully guaranteed $230MM contract — a price point that pushed the Falcons and Panthers to stand down — changed everything.

Prior to Watson’s Cleveland choice, Falcons assistant GM Ryan Smith contacted Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds regarding Ryan interest, Keefer adds, and Colts brass then watched every Ryan game from 2020-21 as they determined if he would be a fit. The Colts had agreed to trade Carson Wentz to the Commanders on March 9, leaving them without a clear-cut option for a stretch. They had also held discussions with Jameis Winston, with Baker Mayfield showing interest in Indianapolis. The Falcons and Colts agreed to terms on a Ryan trade — which sent a third-round pick to Atlanta for the former MVP — March 21.

Ryan, now 37, did his own homework on the Colts, calling Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers to gain intel on, respectively, the organization and Frank Reich‘s offense. Other teams were also interested in Ryan, per Keefer, but the Falcons wanted to send their longtime franchise cornerstone to a destination he preferred.

Despite Watson choosing the Browns as the Colts shopped Ryan, the Falcons stayed the course on a trade by continuing negotiations. On the Colts’ end, Jim Irsay, who had a few negative things to say about Wentz this offseason, instructed GM Chris Ballard to complete the trade. Shortly after the Falcons sent Ryan to the Colts, they signed ex-Arthur Smith Titans charge Marcus Mariota. While third-round pick Desmond Ridder should be expected to make starts for the rebuilding team this season, Mariota will begin the campaign as Atlanta’s starter.

The Colts, whose issues with Wentz began during the 2021 offseason, have been pleased with Ryan thus far. They are eyeing at least a two-year partnership. This would stop a revolving QB door for the Colts, who are about to the join the Broncos and Commanders in starting a different Week 1 QB in each of the past six seasons. Ryan’s contract, which handed the Falcons an NFL-record $40MM dead-money charge, has since been restructured. It checks in with $18.7MM (2022) and $35.2MM (’23) cap numbers.

Latest On Colts’ Quenton Nelson Extension Talks

The top priority remaining this offseason for the Colts is a deal which will keep left guard Quenton Nelson on the books for the foreseeable future. The All-Pro lineman is set to play on the fifth-year option this season, but could very well have a massive extension finalized by the time the regular season starts. 

While a new contract “does not sound imminent” at this time, according to Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star, owner Jim Irsay is remaining confident that one will be in place soon. “I see that getting done,” he said when asked about the status of negotiations.

The Colts are eyeing a second contract for the 26-year-old by the end of August, keeping in line with standard club practice on substantial deals signed in recent years. CBS’ Joel Corry aptly calls it a “foregone conclusion” that Nelson will become the league’s highest-paid interior blocker once the deal is done – a title which currently belongs to Jaguars guard Brandon Scherff ($16.5MM per year). The question of whether Nelson will break the $20MM-per-year threshold, as only three left tackles have done, has been raised with talks ongoing.

Irsay added that, “it’s just a question of timing, and moving towards an agreement, like I always say, that favors both sides and is good for both sides. But you know we’ve never had a problem there when you look at the history of our franchise and our outstanding players going into second contracts, whether it’s been Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison or whoever.”

Corry observes that the Colts could be further incentivized to commit to a long-term deal since multiple franchise tags would carry a similar cost to the average of even a record-breaking multi-year extension. As Nelson still played at a Pro Bowl level last season despite dealing with multiple injuries, a major investment in him would still be considered a wise one by the Colts.

On the point of his health, the Notre Dame alum said, “I feel great, no surgeries this offseason. It was just a chance to really work on my body… gaining more range of motion in my joints, more flexibility.”

With Nelson in a good place health-wise and the Colts in better position than most teams with respect to cap space in the immediate future, an extension being finalized may well just be a matter of time at this point.

Latest On Colts’ WR Search

The Colts have made a number of significant additions this offseason, but wide receiver remains a weak spot on their roster. The team has acknowledged the lack of established options at the position, but remains optimistic, as noted by ESPN’s Mike Wells

[RELATED: Colts To Sign Gilmore]

At the moment, Michael Pittman Jr. is the only starting wideout set to return from the 2021 team. Zach Pascal signed with the Eagles earlier this offseason, and veteran T.Y. Hilton is still a free agent. Of the remaining options, Parris Campbell has shown the most potential, but injuries have been an issue in each of his three seasons. Still, Wells notes, the Colts “aren’t panicking over their current receiving situation”.

Owner Jim Irsay said last month, “Do we need to add [receivers]? Yes. I’m not going to sit here and say we don’t. But we have some young players that we like.” Head coach Frank Reich has echoed that sentiment, saying “I happen to have a lot of belief in the young guys”.

While more targets are likely for Campbell and pass-catching back Nyheim Hines, the team could still add at the position. The free agent market still includes the likes of Hilton, but also Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry and Will Fuller. However, Irsay recently said, “You’re looking for a real specific talent at this point, and it doesn’t appear to be out there”.

As for the draft, Indianapolis doesn’t own a first-round pick as a result of last year’s Carson Wentz trade. Their top selection is presently No. 42, which should still put them within range of some of the second- and third-tier receiver prospects in what is generally viewed as a deep class at the position. In one form or another, at least one significant addition is expected between now and the beginning of the 2022 season.

Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard Address Colts’ Latest QB Change

While it was not difficult to see Jim Irsay as the driving force behind the Colts’ decision to abandon their Carson Wentz effort after one season, the owner effectively confirmed this Tuesday.

GM Chris Ballard called the Irsay-initiated meeting after the Colts’ Week 18 loss “an ass-chewing,” and the longtime owner certainly appears to have identified Wentz as the main problem. Irsay’s refusal to meet with Wentz, following reports the Colts were done with him, preceded the team trading the former No. 2 overall pick to Washington earlier this month.

No disrespect to Jacksonville, but I mean, they’re the worst team in the league. You play well and hard for the first quarter or so, and they’re looking to go to their locker room and clean it out. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Irsay said, via the Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson. “You say, ‘My God, there’s something wrong here.’ It needs to be corrected. I think that we feel like we did.”

Moving away from Wentz became the “obvious” decision, per Irsay, who was grateful the Deshaun Watson saga led to Matt Ryan becoming available (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer). Wentz finished with a career-low 4.3 QBR against the Jaguars, who were two-touchdown underdogs, and Irsay criticized the since-traded passer for his failure to lift the team as its season-defining upset took shape. Irsay met with Colts leaders and determined a Wentz-related disconnect existed, per Erickson.

It is safe to say Wentz will have sufficient motivation going into the 2022 season, considering persistent criticism aimed his way over the past several weeks. Frank Reich said this week he believes Wentz can still be a top-10 quarterback, adding “You guys know how I feel about him,” but “you have to make the move that you think is right,” via The Athletic’s Stephen Holder (subscription required). Reich was the last of the Colts’ power trio to reach the conclusion the team needed to trade Wentz, Holder adds. Given Reich’s pre-Indianapolis connection to the QB, this hesitancy makes sense.

That was a good debate. That went back and forth,” Ballard said, via Holder, of talks between he, Reich and Irsay on Wentz’s future. “Look, I mean, Carson was productive for us. Let’s be real here. [He threw] 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. My job is to look not only at the short term but also the long-term implications. And I think sometimes you hang on just because you made a move and you don’t want the world to see you in a negative viewpoint. We gotta always do the right thing no matter how it might make me look. I just thought it was the right move for us short- and long-term.”

Latest On Colts, Commanders’ Carson Wentz Trade

To say the Colts soured on Carson Wentz probably undersells this situation. While Indianapolis landed a reasonable return for its latest one-and-done starter, the team did not play this process coyly.

The Colts’ decision-makers publicly did not commit to Wentz, after Jim Irsay called a meeting in the wake of the team’s end-of-season collapse. The Colts were drifting away from Wentz before those two losses, per The Athletic’s Zak Keefer, who adds in an expansive piece the former No. 2 overall pick’s leadership qualities — or lack thereof — bothered the team to the point it could not count on its recent hired gun.

Well aware of the Colts’ course change, Wentz attempted to meet with Irsay in the past month. Irsay declined that meeting, Keefer reports, effectively ending the Wentz era before the team’s Wednesday trade with Washington. The Wentz deal leaves the Colts as a clear have-not at quarterback, but the team steadfastly abandoned ship after one season. Whomever Indianapolis starts in Week 1 of next season will be the sixth different passer to open a Colts season in the past six years.

The Colts did get the Commanders to pay up, relatively speaking. Washington initially offered fourth- and sixth-round picks for Wentz, Keefer notes. Indianapolis moved the terms to two thirds — the 2023 third can move to a second based on playing time, similar to the first-rounder exchanged in 2021’s Colts-Eagles swap — and a swap of second-round picks. The Colts now hold the No. 42 pick in the 2022 draft, climbing up five spots. Indy does not have a first-rounder in this draft, having traded it to Philly for Wentz.

Washington had offered three first-round picks for Russell Wilson, per Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan (on Twitter). The Commanders offered at least that, per the Washington Post’s Mark Maske and Nicki Jhabvala, but the Seahawks traded Wilson to the Broncos. Washington let it be known it was seeking a veteran quarterback, and while Deshaun Watson was also on the team’s radar, it pulled the trigger on the Wentz trade. Indeed, Wilson refused to waive his no-trade clause for the Commanders, Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com tweets. By all accounts, Wilson had zeroed in on Denver this offseason.

As for Wentz’s Colts fit, Keefer adds the franchise’s issues with the sixth-year veteran began before Week 1 of last year. A lack of leadership and a resistance to hard coaching — a complaint mentioned in the fallout from Wentz’s Eagles run — invited early Colts doubt about Wentz. Irsay had also expressed frustration about Wentz’s refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Wentz landed on the reserve/COVID list before the season and ahead of Week 17. Although Wentz finished the season with a 27-7 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio, he topped 200 passing yards just twice in his final eight games and ended the season with a career-low 4.3 QBR against the Jaguars.

Latest On Colts, Carson Wentz

The Colts’ January collapse has put Carson Wentz‘s tenure with the franchise in jeopardy. Despite the team giving up a hefty trade haul for the former Eagles starter — a 2021 third-round pick and 2022 first — a weekend report indicated Wentz may well be a one-and-done in Indianapolis.

Wentz’s role in the Colts’ final two losses has moved the team to consider outside options, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. Chris Ballard‘s noncommitment to Wentz exiting the season provided a fairly clear indication the team is not sold on its starter, despite decent numbers in his first season back with Frank Reich.

After the unvaccinated quarterback struggled upon return from his COVID-19 contraction, which caused him to miss a week of practice leading up to the Colts’ Week 17 loss to the Raiders, he failed to come through again in Jacksonville in one of the uglier regular-season losses in recent NFL history. Wentz’s decision to go through the season unvaccinated did not sit well with Jim Irsay, Zak Keefer of The Athletic notes (subscription required), and the Week 18 loss to the Jaguars prompted a meeting during which the owner, Ballard and Reich discussed Wentz at length.

The Colts have not made a decision on Wentz, ESPN.com’s Mike Wells notes, but it is not difficult to see which way they are leaning. The six-year vet’s chances of being given a second shot probably hinge on Indianapolis’ search for a replacement. The Colts would save $13MM by cutting Wentz before March 19. Should Wentz stay a Colt, he will be attached to a $28MM cap number.

Finding an upgrade is not automatic here. Aaron Rodgers has been connected to the Broncos most frequently as an outside destination, but signs are starting to point to the four-time MVP staying with the Packers. No strong indicator has yet emerged to point Russell Wilson out of Seattle, and the Vikings are preparing to keep Kirk Cousins. Derek Carr is going into the final year of his contract, and the Raiders have changed regimes. But Josh McDaniels is believed to hold Carr in high regard. None of this is set just yet, but unless the Colts view Jimmy Garoppolo as an upgrade, the team would fight an uphill battle thanks to having given up its 2022 first-rounder for Wentz. The Colts’ lack of a first-rounder also removes them from the mix to add one of this year’s top prospects.

Availability aside, this would be an intriguing destination for one of the potentially available QBs. The Colts rostered three defensive Pro Bowlers and have one of the NFL’s top offensive lines. They intend to extend Quenton Nelson this year, locking down their All-Pro left guard after reaching long-term agreements with center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Braden Smith. The team does need help at wide receiver, which makes Wentz’s 27-7 TD-INT ratio and ninth-place QBR finish last season look fairly impressive. But Indy’s roster is in good shape otherwise. Even with Wentz’s contract on the books, the Colts are projected to hold more than $37MM in cap space — seventh-most in the league.

Colts Expect To Extend Darius Leonard, Braden Smith

The Colts are busy with the draft, but when speaking to the media about their picks, owner Jim Irsay also revealed the team’s plans for a couple of their guys currently on the roster.

Irsay said the Colts expect to extend linebacker Darius Leonard, and also offensive tackle Braden Smith ‘if the numbers work,’ Stephen Holder of The Athletic tweets. As Holder notes, Smith’s status beyond this season had previously seemed a bit more up in the air, while it was a foregone conclusion that the team would attempt to lock up Leonard.

Both players are members of Indy’s 2018 draft class, and in fact they were picked back to back at 36th and 37th overall. Each is entering the final year of their respective rookie deals, and are currently set to be free agents after this season. Leonard became an instant star, and has made an All-Pro team in each of his first three campaigns.

He was also the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. He’ll likely be seeking, and get, top of the inside linebacker market money. Smith has started at least 13 games in every season, and has been very solid but not spectacular.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of contract he’ll be seeking, as he’s never been elite but also is a dependable starter and only just turned 25.

No wonder Irsay cautioned the finances could be an issue with him. Either way, it sounds like something will get done soon to keep Leonard in Indianapolis long-term.

Fallout From Andrew Luck’s Retirement

Andrew Luck‘s decision to step away from the game of football at the age of 29 will go down as one of the most surprising retirement decisions in the history of the league. But in his impromptu press conference last night, Luck kept using the word “exhausted,” as Zak Keefer of The Athletic observes. Luck’s latest health concern, a calf/ankle ailment, was just part of that exhaustion.

Keefer sums up Luck’s run of major injury woes over the past few years quite nicely. As Keefer writes, Luck “once played an entire quarter against the eventual Super Bowl champs with both a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdomen muscle – and led the Colts to a win. He played half a season with torn cartilage in two ribs. There was an injured thumb, a bum ankle, at least one diagnosed concussion and the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that nearly cost him his career at age 28.”

All of those issues forced Luck to move on to the next chapter of his life much sooner than he wanted. Anyone who watched his presser could see the anguish in his face, how his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, and how painful it was for him to make this decision. But as Luck himself said, “[i]t’s been four years of this injury-pain cycle. And for me to move forward in my life the way I want to, it didn’t involve football.”

Here’s just some of the fallout from Luck’s stunning announcement:

  • Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports that Luck and the Colts have reached an agreement wherein the team will not attempt to recoup any money to which it would be entitled under the CBA. As Joel Corry of CBS Sports notes, the team could have recovered $24.8MM from the former No. 1 overall pick ($12.8MM of the $32MM signing bonus he was entitled to under his current contract, plus two $6MM March 2019 roster bonuses). If the Colts did seek repayment, any money they got back would have counted as a salary cap credit (Twitter links). Colts fans are already taking plenty of heat for booing Luck during the team’s preseason game last night — which Luck admitted was hurtful — and it would not have been a good look if the team were to try and seek repayment (especially in light of how the club mismanaged his early career, as Conor Orr of SI.com summarizes).
  • The Colts are high on their new QB1, Jacoby Brissett, but as Stephen Holder of The Athletic says, the team needs a veteran signal-caller behind Brissett, and it’s likely that GM Chris Ballard is already working feverishly to make a move. Indianapolis has enough draft capital to swing a trade of some kind (Twitter links).
  • Indianapolis may well remain competitive with Brissett at the helm, and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report says team brass does not believe the Colts will be drafting high enough in 2020 to land one of next year’s top QB prospects (Twitter link).
  • Colts owner Jim Irsay sounds like a man who hopes that Luck will unretire at some point. Irsay said, “[y]ou know, I don’t rule it out. Because as quickly as this thing sort of descended on us, and as mysterious as it was coming upon us, it could leave the same way” (h/t Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk). It was clear that Luck had thought long and hard about his decision, so as shocking as his retirement is, it would be even more shocking if he were to return to the field as a player. But Irsay is not ready to give up hope.
  • Irsay estimates that Luck left about $500MM on the table by retiring early given the ever-increasing QB salaries and the $64MM he was already due under the remaining three years of his current deal. As Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network tweets, that’s probably an accurate assessment. But if Luck is willing to walk away from that kind of cash, it seems as though he really is retired for good.
  • Luck’s contract will toll, so if he were to reverse course and come back, Indianapolis would hold his rights for three more seasons, as Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com reminds us (via Twitter).
  • We heard last night that the Colts had known for at least two weeks that Luck was seriously considering retirement, but Ballard says that Luck only began discussing the possibility with the team Monday (less then a week ago), as Albert Breer of SI.com tweets.

Colts Notes: Luck, Anderson, Barrett

It was reported over the weekend that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck drew trade interest from teams as far back as the 2017 trade deadline. Team owner Jim Irsay addressed those rumors, saying teams were willing to part with a small fortune to acquire the quarterback, Fox 59’s Mike Chappell writes.

“Trust me, there were people who would have given an unprecedented amount of draft picks – all with the No. 1 behind them – for him,’’ Irsay said. “And we wouldn’t even think of even drifting in that direction. He’s our guy. We feel 100 percent confident he’s going to come back and lead this football team with some of the new teammates . . . to great things.”

Though he missed the entire 2017 season and has yet to resume throwing, Luck would still almost assuredly force teams trying to acquire him to give up multiple No. 1s and then some. A franchise quarterback who is just 28 years old rarely if ever pops up on the market. Not that there is a market, as the Colts reportedly laughed off inquiries at the time.

Luck led the Colts to an 11-5 mark and the playoffs in each of his first three seasons before missing half of the 2015 season with an injury. He returned and played 15 games the following campaign, going 8-7 and just missing the postseason. Though he was reportedly close to throwing a ball in January, Luck told reporters in early April that he has yet to throw an NFL-sized ball and is not rushing it.

Here’s more with the Colts:

  • In addition to laughing off trade requests, team general manager Chris Ballard told reporters about trading Andrew Luck — “I’m not putting that on my resume,” Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk writes. Though Irsay notes teams were willing to give up a king’s ransom for the quarterback, Ballard didn’t seem to be interested in the move no matter the cost.
  • On Saturday, the Colts shipped defensive lineman Henry Anderson to the Jets in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Addressing the trade, Ballard said the deal was based on scheme fit, saying Anderson worked better with the Jets than Indy, Chappell tweets.
  • Ballard also added that the team is bringing in former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett for rookie minicamp and that he is not signed to the team, Chappell tweets. Barrett registered one of the greatest runs as a Buckeye, setting the school record with 38 victories, becoming the team’s only three-time captain and leading the team to a 4-0 record over rival Michigan.


Extra Points: Colts, Bills, Hightower, Beasley

Broncos quarterbacks struggled during the 2016 campaign, leading some to wonder if the team could pursue a veteran option this offseason. That thought has apparently crossed receiver Emmanuel Sanders‘ mind, as the wideout said he’d certainly benefit if the squad acquired Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

“I believe I would benefit,” Sanders said (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com). “But one thing about it is: I’m always gonna take it back and I’m just gonna put it on John Elway. In John Elway I trust. If he does bring him over, I think Tony Romo will fit good in [Mike] McCoy’s system. It’s a no-huddle, up-tempo offense. I think that it’s gonna be similar to the Cowboys. I think he has Demaryius Thomas and some receiver No. 10 on the other side. I feel like we will win ballgames with Tony Romo or potentially a championship. At the same time, Paxton Lynch played in a spread offense at Memphis and he can be successful. I think Trevor can be successful. We’ll see what we do. I can’t sit up here and say ‘Bring Tony Romo!’ because I also have two other quarterbacks that are playing really well too.”

During his introductory press conference, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said Trevor Siemian and Lynch would compete for the starting quarterback gig.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFL as we wrap up this Monday evening…

  • Colts owner Jim Irsay will be hiring the team’s new general manager on his own, reports Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. Since Irsay won’t be relying on other team officials, Florio believes Irsay will lean towards promoting executive Jimmy Raye III. The writer cites the owner’s familiarity with Raye, as well as the executive’s supposed willingness to stick with head coach Chuck Pagano.
  • The Bills have hired Chiefs assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley as their new quarterbacks coach, reports Alex Marvez of The Sporting News (via Twitter). Culley spent more than a decade with the Eagles before joining Andy Reid and the Chiefs in 2013. We heard earlier tonight that the Chiefs had hired former Eagles wide receivers coach Greg Lewis for the same position.
  • Browns linebacker Jamie Collins received a four-year, $50MM extension earlier today. CBSSports.com’s Joel Corry believes the contract should serve as a “floor” for Collins former teammate, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower (Twitter link). Corry notes that the Patriots will have a tough time convincing Hightower’s agent that the linebacker deserves less than the player they traded away.
  • Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley was close to being traded or cut during training camp, reports Gil Brandt of NFL.com (via Twitter). The fear of being let go apparently motivated the former first-rounder, as Beasley finished the season with 39 tackles, 15.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles.