The Ryan release will create $17.2MM in Colts cap savings. Between this and the Stephon Gilmore trade, Indianapolis has freed up more than $27MM in cap space Tuesday afternoon. While GM Chris Ballard said last year the plan was for Ryan to start multiple seasons, the passer’s 2022 performance leaves his career at a crossroads.
That 2022 performance had more lowlights than highlights, with Ryan finding himself in and out of the starting lineup. When all was said and done, the Colts went 4-7-1 in Ryan’s 12 starts, with the 37-year-old tossing a career-low 14 touchdowns vs. 13 interceptions. The Colts only gave up a third-round pick to acquire the former MVP from the Falcons, but the team was still expecting more from the position.
After getting underwhelming results from veterans like Ryan and Carson Wentz in recent years, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Colts look towards the future. Veteran Nick Foles and former sixth rounder Sam Ehlinger are still on the roster, but it’s unlikely that either QB will be given a long look in 2023.
As for Ryan, the QB will have a difficult time finding a starting gig as a free agent. There were some signs of life in 2022; Ryan’s 67% completion percentage was still on-par with his prime. However, his interception percentage and QBR were among the worst of his career, and with no upside, potential suitors would surely just be eyeing Ryan as a backup and/or mentor. There’s a chance Ryan could also decide to hang up his cleats after playing 15 years in the NFL.
It’s uncertain what’s next for the quarterback, but he’s still entitled to a chunk of money. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter), Ryan’s agent negotiated a new contract as part of his trade to Indianapolis. Thanks to that move, Ryan is entitled to $12MM in guaranteed money for the 2023 campaign, and he’ll receive that money regardless of whether he continues playing or not.
Matt Ryan‘s first season outside of Atlanta was a disappointment. The Colts benched the veteran QB, and he finished the season with a career-low 14 passing touchdowns and a 2.8 interception percentage, the worst mark since his sophomore campaign. Considering his underwhelming performance and Indy’s ability to pivot to the future at the position, many have wondered if Ryan could decide to hang up his cleats.
During a conversation with ESPN’s Stephen Holder, the 37-year-old acknowledged that he’s undecided on his future, although he did hint that he could still have something left in the tank.
“I still love playing,” Ryan said. “I’m obviously not committed to anything. Got to see how it shakes out. But I still love playing and still feel like, honestly, there’s a lot of good football [left]. So, we’ll see.”
As Holder notes, Ryan’s decision isn’t entirely up to him. The Colts still have the veteran under contract for next season, with $12MM of Ryan’s $29MM compensation already guaranteed. The quarterback could walk away whenever he wants, but it’s in his best interest to see how the Colts proceed. It would be in the Colts’ best financial interest to cut Ryan, which would save them a significant chunk of money. In that scenario, Ryan could still collect his guaranteed money before calling it a career.
“I’m under contract, and until that changes, you kind of go to work,” he said. “There’s a lot that’s going to happen here in the next six, eight weeks, whatever it is. Let’s see.”
On the flip side, the Colts may value Ryan’s veteran presence on the roster, especially if they opt for a top prospect in the draft. After the season, general manager Chris Ballard seemed to reinforce the quarterback’s value to the roster while noting that Ryan wasn’t to blame for the team’s 4-12-1 record.
“[This season] is not an indictment on Matt Ryan,” Ballard said. “Matt Ryan is as professional a player that I’ve ever been around. I still think he’s got something left in his body to play. He’s smart, knows how to play the game.”
The 2022 season will come to an end for the Colts on Sunday, but not before yet another change at the quarterback position. Interim head coach Jeff Saturday announced on Monday that Sam Ehlingerwill be under center for Indianapolis’ Week 18 contest against the Texans.
Veteran Nick Foleshad been moved to the top of the depth chart two weeks ago as part of the team’s plans to shut down Matt Ryan. That gave the former Eagle, Jaguar and Bear another chance to take the reins of an offense – albeit one, in this case, which has woefully underperformed relative to preseason expectations. Foles threw three interceptions in a 20-3 loss to the Chargers in his first start in one year.
Things were not faring much better during yesterday’s loss to the Giants before the 33-year-old suffered a rib injury. It forced him to exit the game, and he did not return. Saturday confirmed that he will not be available to suit up this Sunday, meaning that Ryan will once again dress, but as the backup. The Colts’ intentions of preventing an injury to the former MVP (and the associated 2023 salary cap issues that would incur) were behind that latest decision.
As a result, Ehlinger will be back atop the depth chart. The 2021 sixth-rounder took over for Ryan in Week 8, and remained as the No. 1 for the following game. He totaled 304 scoreless yards during that span, while throwing an interception and taking 11 sacks. The Texas product performed better in relief of Foles yesterday, including his first career touchdown pass, but a significant follow-up would be required this week to cast any doubt on the sense that the Colts will once again be heavily involved in the offseason quarterback market.
This latest switch adds even further to the fluidity Indianapolis has dealt with throughout the 2022 campaign. As Zak Keefer of The Athletic illustrates (on Twitter), the Colts have had seven different QB depth charts this year, with all three passers occupying each spot at least once. In Ehlinger’s case, he has been a starter, backup and third-stringer on multiple occasions over the course of the season. Week 18 will offer him one final chance to audition for playing time in 2023 and help inform the team’s offseason QB plans.
December 23rd, 2022 at 12:39pm CST by Sam Robinson
DECEMBER 23: Ryan will be demoted from starter to third-stringer, ESPN.com’s Stephen Holder tweets, noting coaching staff meetings led to this two-spot depth chart drop. The bubble-wrap scenario in which Ryan is sidelined to protect against an injury that would affect the Colts’ 2023 cap sheet appears back in play, with The Athletic’s Zak Keefer adding Ryan is unlikely to play again this season (Twitter link). Saturday did not let this previously rumored plan come to pass in November, reinstating Ryan as the starter over Ehlinger, but it looks like the Colts — after four straight losses — will protect against a Ryan injury now.
DECEMBER 21: For a second straight year, Nick Foles will make his first start of the season in Week 16. A year after a Bears one-off, the former Super Bowl MVP will move into the Colts’ starting lineup.
Jeff Saturday announced Wednesday that Foles will take the reins in the team’s Monday-night matchup against the Chargers. This will be Foles’ first start since that December 2021 cameo against the Seahawks. Following Matt Ryan and Sam Ehlinger, Foles will be Indianapolis’ third starting QB this season, and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets the plan is for the 11th-year veteran to finish the campaign as Indy’s starter. This will be the sixth team for which Foles has started, following points with the Eagles, Rams, Chiefs, Jaguars and Bears.
The Colts acquired Foles, 33, this offseason, shortly after the Bears released him. Despite his status as the Super Bowl LII MVP who also helped the Eagles to the following year’s divisional round, Foles has not been able to establish himself as a starter in the years since. He lost his job to Gardner Minshew during the 2019 season, after signing a lucrative free agency deal with the Jaguars, and did not keep the Bears gig — which he commandeered from Mitch Trubisky early in the 2020 season — during the team’s push to the playoffs that season. After the Bears signed Andy Dalton and drafted Justin Fields, Foles drifted off the radar and spent most of last season as a QB3.
Frank Reich indicating he had wanted the Colts to acquire Foles for years, but the 6-foot-6 passer has largely gone through another off-radar slate. Foles worked as Ryan’s backup to start the season, but as Jim Irsay backed Ehlinger, the second-year arm replaced Foles as Ryan’s backup. When the Colts pulled the plug on Ryan earlier this year, Ehligner got the call. Reich was not believed to be on board with an Ehlinger start, having preferred to go with Foles in the event of a Ryan benching. With both Ryan and Ehlinger having struggled, Saturday will turn to Foles.
It is difficult to project Foles’ capabilities here. He signed a two-year, $6.2MM deal to rejoin Reich, his former offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. The Colts fired Reich last month and installed assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier as their new play-caller. Foles has not taken any first-team Colts reps since training camp and has made one start since Trubisky regained the Bears job in November 2020. Foles’ start last December did go fairly well. The Bears upset the Seahawks, and despite making a start for the first time in over a year and doing so for a downtrodden team in a snow game, Foles completed 24 of 35 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown.
This could be it for Ryan with the Colts. Saturday gave the 15th-year veteran his job back upon taking the interim HC position, and although the offseason trade acquisition led the Colts to a win over the Raiders, the team has lost four straight — including a historic defeat in Minnesota. Indianapolis blowing an NFL-record 33-point lead in an overtime loss could well be Ryan’s final NFL start. He is signed through 2023, but the Colts should not be expected to keep the former MVP for his age-38 season. Ryan is due a guaranteed $12MM in 2023 but could collect $7.2MM more if he is unable to pass a physical by Day 3 of the league year. It should be expected Ryan will be off Indy’s roster by that point.
DECEMBER 12: Any changes will need to wait for at least one more game. Saturday confirmed when speaking to the media today that Ryan will remain the starter against the Vikings in Week 15. Foles, meanwhile, will once again dress as the backup, leaving Ehlinger inactive.
DECEMBER 11: The Jeff Saturday era was marked by return of Matt Ryanas the Colts’ starting quarterback, and a win during his first game as an NFL head coach. Since then, however, the veteran’s struggles have continued, inviting questions about another quarterback change taking place.
Ryan started for the first seven weeks of the season, but he and the offense struggled immensely. A shoulder sprain necessitated the move to Sam Ehlingerin the short term, but then-head coach Frank Reich said it was intended to be permanent. Not long after, Reich had been replaced by Saturday in a highly controversial decision, bringing about a return for the longtime Falcons starter.
Despite missing two games, Ryan still leads the league in interceptions (13) and total turnovers (18). Saturday had voiced his continued support of the 37-year-old after Week 12, but admitted that things could change during the team’s bye week. Personnel moves could entail another shake-up under center.
“We’re going to look at everything – no position in particular,” Saturday said via the Indy Star’s Joel A. Erickson. “We need the best 11 on the field every time. If we think somebody gives us a better chance to win, let’s have those discussions this week.”
Sitting at 4-8-1 on the campaign, Indianapolis has been underwhelming in most aspects on offense and defense. That could lend itself to younger players at a number of positions, including Ehlinger, being given an extended look to close out the season. The status of Ryan’s shoulder could factor into the team’s decisions as well, though Saturday insisted that health is not an issue with respect to his ability to continue starting.
The other options available to the Colts, of course, is veteran Nick Foles. Acquired in no small part due to his connection with Reich dating back to their time together in Philadelphia, the 33-year-old was benched in favor of Ehlinger as Ryan’s backup in October. He dressed last week during the team’s loss to the Cowboys, however, leading some to wonder if he will see first-team action at some point. With Saturday attempting to earn the full-time HC position for 2023, decisions made for the closing games of the season will still be made with the immediate future in mind.
“It won’t be about next-year evaluation,” he said. “It will be about what gives us the best chance to win in these final four.”
Matt Ryan returned to the lineup and guided the Colts to a victory in Week 10, but Indy has since dropped each of their past two games. Following the Colts’ loss last night to the lowly Steelers, head coach Jeff Saturday told reporters that the veteran quarterback will remain under center.
“Matt’s going to continue to be the guy,” Saturday said (via NFL.com’s Kevin Patra). “We’re going to keep moving forward, keep pressing forward with what we got. I tell the guys in the locker room, we’ve got the players in the locker room to do it. We’ve got the plays to do it. We gotta figure out how to execute in moments that matter. That’s really what we have to focus in on and hone in on.”
Following his unexpected hiring, Saturday gave Ryan an immediate vote of confidence by inserting the QB back into the starting lineup over Sam Ehlinger. The interim head coach has continually asserted that Ryan gives the Colts the best chance to win each week, and while the 37-year-old’s production has been down during his first season with the organization, he’s still completing passes at a 68.8 percent clip while going 4-5-1 as a starter.
On the flip side, the Colts’ offense was mostly responsible for each of the past two losses, with Ryan tossing one touchdown and one interception over that stretch. Plus, with the Colts sitting at 4-7-1, the team effectively has nothing to play for, so it makes some sense to give their second-year QB more playing time. In his two starts, Ehlinger completed 32 of his 52 pass attempts for 304 yards and one interception. He also added another 54 yards on the ground.
Irsay called Saturday during the Colts’ Week 9 loss to the Patriots, discussing the team’s protections. That discussion led to an offer to become Indianapolis’ interim HC. Had Saturday not accepted the job, Irsay would not have fired Frank Reich, Zak Keefer of The Athletic notes (subscription required). That points to Irsay’s conviction on the inexperienced coach while also revealing an obvious lack of desire to promote one of Reich’s assistants to the post.
Some of Reich’s assistants have expressed displeasure with Irsay’s call, and it is safe to say the Colts’ staff will look considerably different next season. Following last week’s report of quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovichturning down the opportunity to call plays, Rapoport and Pelissero confirm as much and note the Colts’ play-calling offer did not include any adjustments to his current contract. Milanovich, a former Grey Cup-winning head coach, has been Indy’s QBs coach since 2021, when the team promoted Marcus Brady to replace Nick Sirianni. The Colts fired Brady earlier this season.
Milanovich and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery — each of whom having play-calling experience, though most of it coming outside the NFL — will play a big role in game-planning, Saturday said. But Parks Frazier has made the unusual leap from assistant QBs coach to play-caller.
Saturday also had the freedom to bench Sam Ehlinger and reinstall Matt Ryanas the starter, a choice Irsay does not appear to have made available for Reich. The five-year Colts HC did not back the Irsay-driven pivot to Ehlinger, and Keefer adds the players were not behind the Ryan benching as well. Despite Ryan’s nine interceptions and 11 fumbles through seven games, Keefer notes the Colts’ roster viewed the veteran as the player who gave the team its best chance to win. Recovered from his shoulder injury, Ryan received first-team reps during Colts practice last week, Keefer tweets.
The Colts did enjoy the opportunity of facing a Raiders defense that has slipped from below average — under current Colts DC Gus Bradley — in 2021 to one of the league’s worst units. Las Vegas ranks 28th in both points allowed and total defense. The Colts still entered Week 10 as underdogs, and their Saturday-Frazier-Ryan direction nevertheless led to a victory. Moving to 4-5-1, the Colts remain a fringe AFC contender — record-wise, at least — and outings like Sunday’s will provide ammunition for Irsay’s hope of Saturday sticking around beyond 2022.
No interim HC has been retained since Doug Marrone kept the Jaguars’ reins, after the team fired Bradley, in 2016. Saturday moving into position to buck this trend would add to the scrutiny engulfing the Colts, but it is safe to say traditional norms regarding interim HCs do not apply here. This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting interim stretches in modern NFL history.
Today marks the beginning of the Jeff Saturday era in Indianapolis, after a controversial and nearly unprecedented move to replace Frank Reich as head coach. Saturday’s first game in charge will see a familiar face under center.
The Colts announced in advance of today’s contest that Matt Ryanwill once again operate as the team’s starter. That decision comes after Saturday had announced earlier in the week that Sam Ehlingerwould remain the No. 1, as he had for the past two weeks.
The 2021 sixth-rounder came in to replace an injured Ryan, though Reich insisted that the move was performance-related. The fact that it was Ehlinger, and not veteran Nick Foleswho took over raised questions regarding whose decision it ultimately was to bench Ryan. It was later revealed that owner Jim Irsay – who was, of course, the central figure in naming Saturday as Reich’s replacement – drove the switch to Ehlinger for what was supposed to be the remainder of the season.
The Colts lost each of the Texas alum’s starts, including a 26-3 defeat to the Patriots last week. That marked the end of Reich’s four-plus-year tenure, but was not expected to produce a return to action for Ryan. The 37-year-old struggled mightily to begin his Colts tenure, one which the team initially stated they hoped would provide them with multi-year stability at the QB position. The longtime Falcon led the NFL in interceptions, fumbles and sacks allowed at the time he was benched, so it will be interesting to see how much of an improvement is made after time to heal and the installation of assistant QBs coach Park Frazier as offensvie play-caller.
Also of note in this situation is the notion that Ryan had playing-time incentives in his deal, and that it factored into the decision to replace him. Irsay recently rejected that, insisting that the many moves made within the organization in recent weeks have all been pointed at rescuing the team’s 3-5-1 season. Today’s contest against the Raiders will prove insightful with respect to Saturday’s and Ryan’s ability to accomplish that goal.
The Colts made headlines on Monday when the team decided to fire head coachFrank Reich, naming former center Jeff Saturday the interim head coach for the rest of the year. The decision to appoint Saturday drew widespread surprise as Saturday has no former NFL coaching experience.
Team owner Jim Irsay defended the decision even claiming that Saturday could remain head coach beyond the 2022-23 NFL season, according to ESPN’s Stephen Holder. General manager Chris Ballard claimed that the Colts attempted to bring Saturday into the league coaching circle in 2019 as an offensive line coach and approached him about a position this year, as well. Saturday has reportedly served as a consultant for the team, with Irsay contacting him as recently as Sunday during the team’s loss to the Patriots to inquire about blocking issues, according to Zak Keefer of The Athletic.
Here are a few other rumors concerning the Colts:
In response to former Colts head coach Tony Dungy‘s recent accusations that the team benched starting quarterback Matt Ryan in order to stay within the boundaries of an injury guarantee in Ryan’s contract, Irsay attempted to set the record straight, according to Bob Kravitz of The Athletic. Irsay insisted that there are no playing time guarantees in Ryan’s contract. “There’s no such thing,” Irsay claimed. “There’s no bonus if Matt plays a certain amount of time.” If such an incentive does exist, it has not been reported.
One of the other quarterback situations that didn’t work out in the long run for Indianapolis was the signing of Philip Rivers in 2020. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, Ballard signed Rivers expecting the veteran to lead the team’s offense for multiple years. Although Rivers did take the Colts to the playoffs, he retired after one season with the team, leading the Colts to make more moves for Wentz and, eventually, Ryan in the years to follow.
Saturday is going with assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier as his offensive play-caller in Week 10, but Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post reports Frazier was not the first choice. QBs coach Scott Milanovich, a former Jaguars play-caller who helmed the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup as head coach in 2012, turned down the chance to call plays.
Milanovich called plays in Canada and for a short stretch with the Jaguars. He has been on Reich’s staff since last year. While Frazier has been with the Colts since Reich’s 2018 arrival, the 30-year-old does not have play-calling experience and was on the quality control level as recently as 2020. The Colts also have former East Carolina HC and Maryland OC Scottie Montgomery on staff as running backs coach; Montgomery was on the Panthers’ OC radar this offseason.
Irsay’s decision to hire Saturday has caused tumult among staffers and players, according to La Canfora, who adds Matt Ryan and other veterans were “irate” when informed of the Reich-for-Saturday swap. Some vets have said they do not want to play for the team any longer, though the trade deadline having passed limits players’ options. GM Chris Ballard, whom Irsay said was not in danger of being canned, told players the Saturday decision came “directly from the owner.” Irsay made that plain with his comments this week.
Irsay being behind the firing of offensive coordinator Marcus Brady is not surprising, but La Canfora notes the owner overruled Reich on quarterback selection. Reich did not view Sam Ehlinger as ready to play, and although the since-fired HC did not want to bench the struggling Ryan, he would have gone to Nick Foles before Ehlinger. Reich said this offseason he had wanted to acquire Foles in previous years. Prior to Ehlinger replacing Ryan, he moved past Foles as Indy’s QB2. It does not appear Reich backed that move.
The Colts are 0-2 with the 2021 sixth-round pick starting, and although Ehlinger drew praise from Reich, some around the league believe the Colts are tanking with their Saturday-Ehlinger-Frazier strategy. Irsay vehemently pushed back on that notion (via The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz), but the Colts — who also traded Nyheim Hines‘ through-2024 contract to the Bills at the deadline — will be far less experienced in key spots when they face the Raiders on Sunday.
“That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard, that we’re tanking,” Irsay said. “That’s bulls—. We’re in this thing; 9-7-1 get us in, no question about it. … We’re not tanking the season. Whoever says these things, that we’re not playing Matt because [of an effort to tank], that’s all bulls—. That’s not true. … We’re going to do what it takes to win. I don’t know who people think we are, they don’t know us. We don’t tank in Indianapolis.”
The Colts won the Andrew Luck sweepstakes 10 years ago, going 2-14 in 2011. But the team losing Peyton Manning for a full season led to that pick, rather than a full-fledged tanking effort. Though, the Colts certainly benefited from losing at the right time. Indianapolis has yet to find a Luck replacement; the team will certainly be linked to first-round passers in 2023.
Reich’s staff also includes DC Gus Bradley, a four-year Jaguars HC who has been on the coordinator level for over a decade, and former Panthers, Broncos and Bears HC John Fox, a senior defensive assistant. Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone is viewed as a rising talent in the coaching ranks. The Saturday decision and Irsay’s defense of the choice has drawn criticism from other staffers around the league, Kimberley Martin of ESPN.com tweets.
The Rooney Rule does not apply to interim hires. Rod Graves, the director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said (via CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson, on Twitter) that should change going forward. The NFL’s expanding of the Rooney Rule in recent years certainly points to the possibility it will later apply to interim hires. It is not yet known if the league will discuss that matter for potential 2023 application.