The Indianapolis Colts made a sizable splash on Monday afternoon by trading for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Colts General Manager Chris Ballard had been combing through a list of potential outcomes under center following his decision to trade Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders in exchange for a pair of mid-round draft selections. Ballard’s options reportedly included trading for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo, but the Colts’ chief decision-maker ultimately landed his best-case-scenario by acquiring Ryan from the Falcons.
Indianapolis’ quarterbacking situation appeared rather dire following their decision to essentially give up on the disappointing Wentz after just one campaign despite parting with a premium first-round draft selection in order to acquire him from the Philadelphia Eagles just 12 months prior.
It appears a pivotal Week 18 loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in a must-win scenario was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ballard and Head Coach Frank Reich ultimately decided to strive for more than Wentz provided and they’ve likely upgraded the position by adding Ryan to the fray. The soon-to-be-37-year-old Ryan isn’t the long-term solution given his advancing age and Indianapolis may find themselves in the market for another quarterback sooner rather than later, but he should help Indianapolis contend for the AFC South divisional crown in 2022 alongside the Tennessee Titans, who have won back-to-back division titles.
The Colts disappointingly missed the postseason in 2021 by compiling a 9-8 record, which fell three victories short of Tennessee’s 12-5 division-winning campaign. The Titans are strong favorites to compile double-digit wins again in 2022, but Ryan’s addition should certainly help Indianapolis close the gap while getting into double digits themselves. The 2020 season could perhaps best serve as a better example of what’s to come. Indianapolis had veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers, who had reached a similar point in his career that Ryan currently finds himself in. Ryan, like Rivers was, is in his late thirties and his elite, MVP-winning efforts are likely behind him. The Colts remained a run-first offense while receiving above-average, game-managing production out of Rivers, who threw for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while leading the Colts to an impressive 11-5 record. The Titans won the division on a tiebreaker and the Colts ultimately had to settle for a wildcard berth but hey, they made the postseason. There’s no reason Ryan can’t produce in similar fashion while playing with a superstar running back in Jonathan Taylor and a high-quality offensive line (with a concerning hole or two, currently).
Ballard must now swiftly turn his attention to surrounding Ryan with an environment best suited for immediate success. Several high-level pieces are in place but more is required. Taylor is an elite ball-carrier that will likely do the heavy lifting for Indianapolis’ offense despite Ryan’s presence. Michael Pittman Jr. is a quality No. 1 wide receiver that should provide Ryan with a big-bodied boundary target. It’s a body type and skill set that Ryan has experienced success with in the past. Nyheim Hines is a quality pass-catching running back that can make Ryan’s life easier at times, too. In the trenches, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith return to man the left guard, center and right tackle positions, respectively. All three linemen are high-level players but Ballard must search for a new left tackle and right guard after Mark Glowinski departed for the New York Giants in free agency and Eric Fisher is expected to do the same. The left tackle position especially looms large. Protecting Ryan’s blindside is a must as he lacks the mobility necessary to escape pressure. The good news is, the Colts still have roughly $17 million in cap space after the Ryan trade, per Spotrac. The receiver and tight end positions could certainly use some additional TLC too, and the draft may represent the best avenue for Ballard to address those needs. The Colts are well set up for 2022 but the job isn’t yet complete.
Indianapolis brought in Rivers as a bridge-option in 2020 because they were ready to win immediately and it paid short-lived dividends. Ballard swung-and-missed on Wentz and has swiftly returned to the comforts of an aging, experienced quarterback that remains capable of providing the level of play their offense requires in order to achieve the desired success. The Colts shouldn’t quite be considered AFC South favorites but the impressive addition of Ryan should help them better compete for that prestigious honor going forward.
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