NFL News & Analysis

Monson: The move for QB Matt Ryan was the best the Indianapolis Colts could do, but they're still looking up at the AFC contenders

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL news cycle never ends.

On Monday, the Atlanta Falcons traded longtime quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round draft pick, the lower of the two third-rounders the Colts had to offer.

The Falcons drafted Ryan with the third overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft. Now, his 14-year reign as the face of the franchise comes to an end.

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The move had become inevitable with how hard and publicly the team pursued quarterback Deshaun Watson despite Ryan’s presence on the roster. And when the Falcons' brass failed to secure Watson, they decided to embark on a complete rebuild — a move that simply could not happen with Ryan’s contract on the books.

Trading him to Indianapolis lands them with a dead cap hit of over $40 million, the largest dead cap hit in league history by $7 million. However, it also starts the cap-healing process.

Matt Ryan: Wins Above Replacement (PFF WAR) and rank since 2017
Rank Player PFF WAR
1 Tom Brady 22.03
2 Aaron Rodgers 15.72
2 Patrick Mahomes 15.72
4 Russell Wilson 15.35
5 Matt Ryan 15.25
6 Kirk Cousins 12.91
7 Matthew Stafford 12.57
8 Derek Carr 11.82
9 Drew Brees 11.76
10 Dak Prescott 11.09

Click here to view Matt Ryan's career in PFF Premium Stats

Ryan now gets to move to a team that has been ready to contend for a couple of years but hasn't been able to find the quarterback to do it since Andrew Luck‘s retirement.

They took a shot with Philip Rivers, who didn’t quite have enough in the tank, and they bailed on the Carson Wentz reclamation project after one season that imploded spectacularly with a final-game loss to the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars that kept them out of the playoffs.

The veteran signal-caller still has enough juice to win with a good roster, but he may need those benefits at this point in his career. His PFF grade is over 20.0 points higher indoors than outside over the last two seasons, so going to a team that plays inside was important to him.

For all his faults — his PFF overall grade has slipped from an MVP level of 92.2 in 2016 to an average 75.8 last season — Ryan has still been excellent when kept clean in the pocket.

Last year, his grade from a clean pocket was 90.4, which came with an extremely low turnover-worthy play rate of just 1.6%. But when pressured, his grade plummeted to 50.1, while his turnover-worthy play rate spiked to 5.6%.

Matt Ryan: PFF grades and rank since 2015 (postseason included)
Season Snaps PFF Grade PFF Grade Rank
2021 1,020 75.8 16 of 38
2020 1,113 83.1 12 of 38
2019 1,065 76.0 16 of 39
2018 1,048 84.3 8 of 39
2017 1,159 88.3 3 of 41
2016 1,211 92.2 2 of 37
2015 1,116 80.9 7 of 40

Ryan's offensive line had been deteriorating for several years in Atlanta, but the Colts have had one of the best units in the league for a few seasons.

That line needs some remedial work, with starters in Eric Fisher and Mark Glowinski departing in free agency, but the team should still be able to put the best line in front of Ryan that he has seen in a number of years — and at a time when he needs it most.

Last season, despite the paint-by-numbers system that minimized the chances of a Wentz implosion, the Colts were still able to win games and be competitive in the AFC. They should have made the playoffs but for one of those untimely implosions. Frank Reich is a good coach who should be able to coax a good year out of Matt Ryan, and Ryan might have just enough gas left in the tank to take advantage of it.

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The team's biggest issue is that the landscape in the NFL — and the AFC, in particular — has changed. The best teams have moved on in what seems like an escalating arms race of stockpiling talent to win a championship.

Teams like the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers are making huge moves to amass enough firepower to combat the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Cincinnati Bengals have relentlessly attacked the biggest weakness they had that arguably kept them from winning a championship last year.

In the AFC South, the Colts should be capable of winning enough games to play postseason football again, but the question becomes whether that is enough — because all that does is buy you an invitation to a tournament involving all of these super-teams.

The Colts did what they could do to upgrade at quarterback. And, given the previous moves made, one can argue they made the best of a bad situation. However, it likely still leaves them short of true contender status in a conference that is now swimming with them.

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