In exchange for Ryan's services, the Colts are sending a third-round pick (No. 82 overall) in this year's draft to the Falcons, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport.
The latest spin of the QB carousel fills one void in Indy and creates another in Atlanta. Kevin Patra assesses the five biggest takeaways from the Colts' acquisition of Ryan.
1) Colts take another big swing at quarterback
Chris Ballard's quest to replace Andrew Luck continues. The general manager is shooting for the moon with a veteran signal-caller for the third straight offseason. Two years ago, Indy brought in a declining Philip Rivers on a one-year deal. Rivers was good enough to get Indianapolis to the postseason, but at that stage of his career, he was never going to be the long-term solution. Then Ballard swung a big trade for Carson Wentz, believing Frank Reich could get the former No. 2 overall pick back to the form that had him squarely in the MVP discussion when the two were working together in Philly back in 2017. That quickly blew up in Indy's face. Wentz cratered down the stretch, struggling in the offense and proving he's not a difference-maker -- failing to reach 230 yards passing in any of his final five games.
Now Ballard is taking another massive swipe at answering the QB conundrum that has perplexed him since Luck abruptly retired in August of 2019.
Ryan is in decline, but the 2016 NFL MVP can still make all the throws when protected. His subtle pocket movement keeps him alive, and he makes far better decisions than Wentz ever did. Ryan can still catch fire for stretches and play at a top-10 level. He hasn't lost his downfield ability, which is usually the first thing to go for aging QBs. At worst, he's a mid-level starter who can deftly run an offense. If the Colts had gotten anything close to that production from the QB position last season, they'd have made the postseason. Zero question.
Trading for Ryan is Ballard's best move yet to replace Luck. He provides a playoff-caliber roster the type of leadership it lacked with Wentz. But it's not hugely different than when Rivers was brought in -- just a couple extra years of leash.
But if it's a third swing and miss from the GM, owner Jim Irsay's patience could finally wear thin.
2) Falcons blowing it up
After the pursuit of Deshaun Watson failed, Atlanta decided to blow up the entire operation. Ryan was the last piece keeping the Flacons in the not-good-but-not-horrendous purgatory of the NFL. Without the veteran MVP, ATL could contend for the 2023 No. 1 overall pick. The WR corps is in shambles with Calvin Ridley suspended for the year. The O-line remains a big question mark. Outside of Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson, there isn't an intriguing player on offense. The defense has a few pieces in stud cornerback A.J. Terrell, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and newly signed corner Casey Hayward, but it remains a rebuilding, suspect group. Now with a hole at QB, the Falcons are in rebuild mode. Perhaps Arthur Blank can spare some Home Depot tools for the reconstruction. The willingness to eat $40.5-plus million in dead cap by trading Ryan signals that second-year GM Terry Fontenot is ready to reset the deck completely.
Shortly after trading Ryan, Atlanta scooped up Marcus Mariota, giving the Falcons a vet with starting experience to bridge to the next phase of the rebuild. This is like the Lions taking on Jared Goff last offseason, although Atlanta's move came at a much smaller price tag than Detroit's. Mariota's a QB who can run the offense but probably isn't winning too many games to hurt your chances of getting a high draft pick to potentially select the next franchise signal-caller.
3) Baker Mayfield's landing spots dwindling
Mayfield reportedly wanted to go to Indy, likely for the same reasons it's a cushy landing spot for Ryan: The Colts offer a playoff-ready roster with a QB-friendly coach. Now the soon-to-be ex-Browns quarterback will have to consider other options. Teams still in need of QBs: Carolina, Detroit, Houston, Seattle.
Given their desire to stay in win-now mode under the 70-year-old Pete Carroll, the Seahawks make a lot of sense. Mayfield has proven he can lead a run-first offense and could keep Seattle competitive with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett as his WRs.
Under Matt Rhule, Carolina can't figure out what it wants in a QB, but wouldn't Sam Darnold and Mayfield battling it out during training camp be fun (or sad, depending on your outlook)?
Houston and Detroit feel like they're comfortable running back their QB situations and waiting to draft a future signal-caller instead of trading for Mayfield, who will want a new contract.
Wherever Mayfield ends up, it won't be his top destination, which eschewed a chance to trade for the younger QB and instead picked a soon-to-be 37-year-old.
4) Indy owes the Washington Commanders a thank-you card
The Colts could swing a Ryan trade in part because the Commanders shipped two third-round picks (one conditional that can become a second-rounder) for Wentz while taking on the QB's hefty salary. Without that piece of the puzzle, a move for Ryan doesn't happen. In acquiring Ryan, Indy simply had to flip one of its third-rounders to Atlanta and use the cap space to sweeten the deal for the new QB. Seems like an easy move.
After the Colts traded Wentz, reports poured out of Indy that the brass was disappointed in the QB as a leader. Now the Colts are upgrading to a resoundingly respected Ryan. Look no further than how he handled the Falcons going after Watson to understand the type of person he is in the locker room.
Even in a trade Washington isn't involved in, the Commanders still somehow come out on the losing end.
5) Chris Ballard must remain aggressive
Trading for an aging quarterback comes with the presumption you're in win-now mode. Couple that with an owner who's probably still steaming months after his club botched the season with a stunning Week 18 loss to Jacksonville, and you can bet there are still moves to be made. Indy has a glaring hole at left tackle and desperately needs to add speed at receiver to complement Michael Pittman Jr. On defense, there is a need at corner. The draft can help with depth, but after Monday's move, Ballard needs to stay on the prowl. While the free-agent pool has been picked over, a playmaker like Will Fuller on the outside could provide boom-or-bust potential. Darius Leonard is already recruiting Julio Jones -- whom Ryan obviously has a relationship with. Questions about his health are likely the biggest issue with taking a big swing at Julio.
After Indy missed out on the postseason, an irate Jim Irsay promised changes. It took until March for those big moves to begin, but after trading away Wentz and importing Ryan, the Colts are off and running. Now Ballard must keep the pedal down.