Add Matt Ryan to the lengthy list of quarterbacks changing uniforms in 2022.
The longtime Atlanta signal-caller is leaving Georgia for Indianapolis after the Colts agreed to trade a third-round pick (No. 82 overall) in April's draft to the Falcons, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo reported Monday. The teams later announced the deal.
Until Monday, Ryan's standing within the Falcons franchise remained unchanged since he arrived as the third-overall pick in 2008. He was drafted to be Atlanta's franchise quarterback and became just that, earning four Pro Bowl nods, a first-team All-Pro selection, and winning NFL Most Valuable Player honors in 2016, a season in which he led the Falcons to the Super Bowl. As faces have changed, Ryan has remained the constant for over 10 years.
Now, he's trading red and black for the Colts' blue and white.
"Matt Ryan has been the epitome of a franchise quarterback during his time here in Atlanta," Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank said in a statement. "He has represented this organization with great class, professionalism and leadership, both on and off the field, over the past 14 years. It is difficult to overstate what he has meant to me personally, our organization, his teammates and our fans.
"From his first day in the building, Matt has given his all in the pursuit of winning a championship for Atlanta. His arrival in 2008 instantly made us a contender in the NFC and he's been our quarterback through the most successful era in Falcons history. Matt led us to the playoffs six times, including two NFC Championship games, and the first Super Bowl appearance under my stewardship of the franchise. He holds every significant passing record in club history, is an All-Pro, an NFL MVP and is without question one of the greatest players in Falcons history. He will one day be added to our Ring of Honor, and it is my belief that a bust in Canton will follow in short order."
Ryan replaces the since-traded Carson Wentz in Indianapolis, where the Colts remain in win-now mode despite being forced to find secondary options under center in each of the past two seasons. Ryan becomes the latest veteran to join coach Frank Reich with the hopes of pursuing a Super Bowl that has eluded Indianapolis since the Colts' loss to the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
Indianapolis is welcoming a quarterback who has been remarkably consistent throughout his career. Even as playmakers departed Atlanta, Ryan has continued to produce, throwing for at least 4,000 yards in 10 of his last 11 seasons. 2021 marked his first sub-4,000-yard season since 2010, and he finished just 32 yards shy of the mark while posting a 20-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio with an offense that severely lacked pass-catching weapons.
Ryan can certainly still sling it, and the Colts are banking on him being able to elevate their offense beyond what it was with Wentz in 2021. Ryan will have Jonathan Taylor to lean on in the running game, while also being able to target players like Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell, Mo Alie-Cox and Ashton Dulin. Veteran free agent T.Y. Hilton could also return to the Colts, especially with Indianapolis clearly pushing its chips to the center of the table.
The Ryan trade comes on the heels of Atlanta's failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson, who was seriously entertaining waiving his no-trade clause to go to his hometown Falcons before ultimately deciding to choose the Cleveland Browns. With the Falcons publicly courting Watson, it seemed as if a future with Ryan was at the very least in doubt. Now, it's over for the Falcons, who were discussing a deal involving Ryan with the Colts before the Watson pursuit began last week, per Pelissero.
The Falcons moved fast to address the QB position, agreeing to a two-year contract for Marcus Mariota as a potential immediate replacement for Ryan in Atlanta. Falcons coach Arthur Smith has history with Mariota from their time shared in Tennessee.
Despite the upcoming class of quarterbacks lacking true impact player power, it's fair to believe the Falcons might also spend their first-round pick in April on a quarterback. Atlanta is in the midst of a rebuild and is up against the salary cap ceiling, with just $71,282 in cap space before the Ryan trade, per Over The Cap. The trade saves the Falcons roughly $9 million in cap space, but also forces Atlanta to carry over $40 million in dead cap for the 2022 season. The Colts picked up Ryan's $7.5 million roster bonus and added guarantees to the entirety of his two-year deal that has nearly $54 million left overall, Rapoport added.
Earlier this month in Indianapolis at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, Atlanta's leadership duo of Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot were remarkably noncommittal when it came to Ryan in 2022. Fontenot repeatedly declined to commit to Ryan as the team's starter this season, while Smith told reporters a potential Ryan trade "depends on what the offer is."
"It's like the old Don Corleone: They give you an offer you can't refuse, I think you've gotta take it," Smith said on March 1. "But that's with everyone. You can ask Terry, if somebody wanted to give a bag of balls for me, they'd push me out the door."
Evidently, an offer of a third-round pick was enough for the Falcons to move on from Ryan, the most dependable player on their roster.
"This business is not without its difficult decisions," Blank said, "and while this is one of the most difficult decisions we have faced as a club, we feel it is in the best long-term interests of both the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan."
The move officially launches a new era in Atlanta, which could include a rookie arriving under center at the end of April. Either way, the Falcons will have challenges ahead as they attempt to turn their team into a contender in the years ahead.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, will welcome Ryan with open arms with a simple expectation: Lead the Colts to the top of the AFC South and hopefully, beyond.