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.”
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.
Suiting up for a game is not new to Ehlinger, a sixth-round pick out of Texas last year. He stood as Carson Wentz‘s backup last season. Wentz made 17 starts during his one-and-done Indianapolis season, but the Colts have consistently praised Ehlinger. His stock continues to rise within the organization, Zak Keefer of The Athletic notes (on Twitter).
While Chappell adds Ehlinger is not viewed as a threat to Ryan, the promotion is certainly interesting given how the 15th-year veteran has fared as a Colt. Ryan’s 11 fumbles are the most through five games since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and his 10 turnovers (seven interceptions, three lost fumbles) lead the league. The Colts have also seen teams submerge their immobile starter; Ryan has taken 21 sacks this season. The Colts are averaging a league-low 13.8 points per game.
A consistent presence for Big 12 buffs throughout his college career, Ehlinger worked as the Longhorns’ starter from his 2017 freshman season through 2020. He posted two seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes compared to five INTs and offers far superior mobility compared to Ryan or Foles. Ehlinger totaled 16 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore and amassed 663 rushing yards as a junior. He still lasted until the No. 218 pick last year, carrying a project label upon joining the Colts.
The Colts, who traded a third-round pick for Ryan this year and want him to start for at least two seasons, have run into persistent issues along their offensive line. The once-elite unit has seen uneven play affect Ryan. Indy has already relocated Matt Pryor from left tackle to right tackle and benched Week 1 right guard Danny Pinter. Pryor, who has allowed five sacks this season, did not play well at right tackle last week in Denver. It is possible the Colts make another move at that spot in Week 6.
Ehlinger may be positioned as the backup due to his mobility behind this unusually shaky front, though it would be interesting to see if the Colts would turn to he or Foles if Ryan suffered an injury that required a multigame absence. Ryan has only missed three starts due to injury in his career. Foles is signed through 2023 on a $6.2MM deal.
The Colts brought in Matt Ryan to stop their cycle of quarterback instability, but Nick Foles adds a steadying presence as a backup. Although Jacoby Brissett‘s presence proved vital even during the years he was not asked to start, the Colts featured a thin QB2 setup last season — after Brissett signed with the Dolphins.
Frank Reich confirmed he wanted Foles in Indianapolis prior to 2022. This year marked the simplest Foles transaction, with the former Super Bowl MVP’s value dropping to the point he agreed to join the Colts on a two-year deal — one ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets will carry a $2.5MM base salary in 2022 and a $3.5MM base in 2023. Foles already cashed in a $4MM roster bonus from the Bears this year. Foles’ cap hits will be just $2.6MM and $3.6MM with the Colts.
“What [GM] Chris [Ballard] and I said was in a perfect world, you get a proven backup, but if it doesn’t happen, we’re not going to chase it,” Reich said, via Mike Wells of ESPN.com. “We’re not going to overpay. We’re not going to do something crazy that could hurt the team long-term.
“I wanted Nick since I’ve been here to be on this team because I think he’s that good of a player. I think he’s the perfect backup quarterback. It literally fell into our lap. We didn’t chase it. If it wouldn’t have worked out, we would have been happy with Sam [Ehlinger], but we’re really happy we got Nick.”
Foles was tied to the Eagles during Reich’s first year with the Colts, playing a key role in Philadelphia yet again by leading the team — which lost Carson Wentz late that season to injury — to the divisional round. The Jaguars signed Foles to a four-year, $88MM deal in 2019 — during an offseason in which the Colts had Andrew Luck still locked in as their starter — and Brissett was still under contract to back up Philip Rivers in 2020. Last year represented a contractual window to acquire Foles, who became a nonfactor in his second Bears season. But with Wentz also on the team, it is understandable the Colts steered clear.
Ryan has not made the Pro Bowl since his 2016 MVP season, and the former Falcons franchise passer ranked 21st in QBR last year. But Ballard said he plans on the trade acquisition being Indy’s QB1 for at least two seasons. Foles’ stock has plummeted considerably since his second Eagles stint, but back with Reich — whom he worked with during a 2017 season that ended with a Super Bowl MVP honor — the 33-year-old veteran could conceivably represent competition for Ryan. For now, that is not the plan.
“This is Matt’s team,” Foles said. “He’s the leader, and he’s running the ship. … I think any time you have a QB room like this, you’re excited to go to work every day. You’re excited to work alongside an MVP.”
Days after it came out that the sides were nearing a deal, the Colts are indeed signing veteran quarterback Nick Foles. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reports (on Twitter) that Foles has agreed to terms on a two-year contract with Indianapolis.
It was reported last week that the Colts were open to the prospect of adding a veteran to their QB room. Many believed that the signal-caller they would be most interested in would be Foles, given his connection to head coach Frank Reich. It was during their time together with the Eagles that Foles led the team to a Super Bowl title. He recently said, “I learned more with [Reich] and that staff in that season in 2017 than I ever have”.
Days later, it came out that the 33-year-old was nearing a deal with the Colts. When asked about the possibility of adding the familiar face, Reich said, “we’re not in a rush. There is a timing to the way things go, and the way the roster is put together, that is very intentional.” Now, almost immediately after those comments, the two have been reunited.
Foles most recently had a two-year stint in Chicago after a disappointing season spent in Jacksonville. He made seven starts in 2020, but was relegated to the No. 3 role this past year behind rookie Justin Fieldsand fellow veteran Andy Dalton. At the end of April, he was released, opening the door to this signing. The Colts had competition for his services, however, as ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweets that the Eagles were “involved” in Foles’ free agency leading up to his decision to join the former.
In Indianapolis, Foles will provide experienced depth behind Matt Ryan, whom the team has stated a desire to maintain as their No. 1 for multiple years. Should anything happen to him, Reich will now be able to lean on a trusted former colleague for at least the immediate future.
At the Colts’ rookie minicamp a week ago, Reich was asked specifically about the possibility of signing Foles, who was released by the Bears at the end of April. “We’re always looking at who makes this team better, at every position,” Reich said. “Who are the available veterans? Who can we still sign? [GM] Chris [Ballard] is very methodical about that process. We’re not in a rush. There is a timing to the way things go, and the way the roster is put together, that is very intentional.”
Foles and Reich have a strong relationship, and Foles recently said, “I learned more with [Reich] and that staff in that season in 2017 than I ever have.”
Foles’ subsequent stints with the Jaguars and Bears were eminently forgettable, but he would certainly represent a qualified backup for Ryan. And that could be critical for a team that saw firsthand in 2021 how an inexperienced backup can negatively impact a season
In a close game against the Rams in Week 2 of the 2021 campaign, Jacob Eason replaced starter Carson Wentz, who had suffered two sprained ankles. Eason, a 2020 fourth-rounder who was seeing his first regular season action, promptly threw a crippling interception and finished the game 2-for-5 for 40 yards and the pick. He was waived a month later.
Foles will be competing for the backup spot with second-year quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger out of Texas and James Morgan out of Florida International, as well as rookie undrafted free agent Jack Coan out of Notre Dame. According to Garafolo, the deal is expected to be finalized early next week.
At the Colts’ rookie minicamp on Friday, head coach Frank Reich was asked specifically about the possibility of signing Nick Foles, who was released by the Bears at the end of April. “We’re always looking at who makes this team better, at every position,” Reich said. “Who are the available veterans? Who can we still sign? [GM] Chris [Ballard] is very methodical about that process. We’re not in a rush. There is a timing to the way things go, and the way the roster is put together, that is very intentional.”
Of course, Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in 2017 when Foles, filling in for an injured Carson Wentz, led Philadelphia on a magical run to its first Lombardi Trophy. Foles and Reich have a strong relationship, and Foles recently said, “I learned more with [Reich] and that staff in that season in 2017 than I ever have.”
Foles’ subsequent stints with the Jaguars and Bears were eminently forgettable, but he would certainly represent a qualified backup for Ryan. And that could be critical for a team that saw firsthand in 2021 how an inexperienced QB2 can negatively impact a season.
In a close game against the Rams in Week 2 of the 2021 campaign, Jacob Eason replaced (coincidentally) Wentz, who had suffered two sprained ankles. Eason, a 2020 fourth-rounder who was seeing his first regular season action, promptly threw a crippling interception and finished the game 2-for-5 for 40 yards and the pick. He was waived a month later.
Indianapolis is high on 2021 sixth-rounder Sam Ehlinger, and it would not be surprising to see him as Ryan’s clipboard holder come Week 1. However, he has not thrown a regular season pass in the NFL, and the same can be said for James Morgan and rookie UDFA Jack Coan, who round out the current QB depth chart.
As such, Foles could be an attractive option. Aside from him, the pickings on the free agent quarterback market are pretty slim, with Cam Newton at the top of a list that also includes Ryan Fitzpatrick — who is 39 and who suffered a season-ending hip injury in the first game of the 2021 season — Mike Glennon, and A.J. McCarron.
GM Scott Fitterer said post-draft the team would go with its current group — one headlined by Sam Darnold and Corral — but Garoppolo or Mayfield would provide an upgrade. The Panthers and Browns had discussed Mayfield ahead of last week’s second round but could not determine how to divvy up the since-replaced QB’s fifth-year option salary ($18.9MM). Darnold is already attached to that sum, which would make Carolina eating all of Mayfield’s option price a non-starter. As such, Mayfield is in limbo.
This marks the second Garoppolo connection to form in the past few days, with the Texans also believed to have the longtime 49ers starter on their radar. Houston did not draft a quarterback last week. Few Garoppolo connections emerged this offseason, with the 49ers’ high asking price limiting teams’ interest. The eight-year veteran’s shoulder surgery provided a roadblock as well.
Foles, 33, languished on the Bears’ bench for most of last season. The former Super Bowl MVP also lost his starting job in both 2019 (to Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville) and ’20 (to Mitchell Trubisky, after having taken it from the incumbent earlier that year). Last season, Andy Dalton and Justin Fields ran Chicago’s offense in all but one game — a Foles-directed win in Seattle — and the Bears finally cut bait after the draft.
Corral became a Panther after the team traded into the third round, giving up its 2023 third-rounder to do so, but the team might have had its eye on a different QB. The Panthers had a deal on the table to trade back into Round 2, when Corral, Malik Willis and Desmond Ridderwere on the board amid their Friday-night freefalls.
“I had the card in my hand, and [owner David Tepper] looks at me and says, ‘What do you want to do?’” Fitterer said, via Breer. “And we both just kind of took a moment, and we looked at the board, and we decided the right thing to do was to be patient. Let’s not overpay. Let’s be smart about this. Let’s not dig ourselves in a hole for next year. Let’s inch back on trading with these quarterbacks.”
The Falcons and Titans took Ridder and Willis, respectively, and Breer adds the Panthers would have been fine going withSam Howell instead of Corral. They decided on the Ole Miss product, and the in-state product fell all the way to Washington atop Round 5.