INDIANAPOLIS – The Matt Ryan era was brief and unsuccessful. Now, it’s over.
The Indianapolis Colts are releasing the veteran quarterback less than one year after acquiring him from the Atlanta Falcons, according to WSB-Channel 2 in Atlanta.
There was no immediate comment from the Colts, but Ryan’s release has been anticipated since early January when the team lost its season finale 32-31 to the Houston Texans and finished with a 4-12-1 record with Ryan standing on the sideline as Sam Ehlinger’s backup. Because of the structure of the contract, the Colts could wait until Friday to make Ryan’s release official.
The hope was the March 21, 2022 trade would provide stability at the position after the team traded Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders March 9. Instead, it proved to be the latest failed attempt at solving a persistent problem with a veteran.
Ryan, 37, is a free agent and able to sign with any team if he has an interest in extending his decorated 15-year career.
The decision to part ways with Ryan carries significant salary-cap consequences. He was due to count $35.2 million against the 2023 cap. Now, the Colts will carry $18 million in dead money to account for the guaranteed portion of his contract but realize $17.2 million in cap savings.
With the trade of cornerback Stephon Gilmore to Dallas earlier Tuesday, the Colts will realize roughly $27.1 million in cap savings with Ryan’s departure.
The long-anticipated release of Ryan clears the path for the Colts to find their long-term answer at quarterback in the April 27 NFL Draft. They hold the No. 4 overall pick and are expected to invest it in their quarterback of the future.
Ryan’s only season with the Colts was a shared failure. He finished with a 4-7-1 record as a starter and was benched twice, although the first time coincided with a sprained right shoulder suffered in a week 7 loss at Tennessee.
Ryan regained his starting job when Frank Reich was fired and replaced by interim coach Jeff Saturday but was benched again for the final three games following the Colts’ historic week 15 collapse at Minnesota.
Despite missing five games, Ryan set a franchise record by fumbling a career-high 15 times, losing five. He finished with 18 total turnovers – 13 interceptions, five fumbles – which was tied for second-most in the NFL behind Buffalo’s Josh Allen (19).
The Colts believed adding Ryan’s experience and productivity would be a good fit with a strong offensive line and a running attack that featured reigning league rushing champion, Jonathan Taylor.
That wasn’t the case. Not even close.
The offensive line was a problem from the outset, which compromised pass protection and impacted the running game. The Colts allowed 60 sacks, the second-most in franchise history and second-most in the league. A ground attack that ranked No. 2 in 2021 (149.4 yards per game) plummeted to No. 23 last season (109.8).
General manager Chris Ballard acknowledged the team’s quarterback carousel – five different primary starters during Reich’s five seasons – had adversely impacted the franchise and culminated with last season’s 4-12-1 record.
“Looking back on it, when you’re changing quarterbacks every year, it’s tough,’’ he said in January. “It’s tough on everybody. It’s tough on the team. Not getting that position settled, has a little something to do with it.
“And that’s not an indictment of any of the quarterbacks we have. Let me talk about Matt Ryan. I mean, it’s not an indictment on Matt Ryan . . . as professional a guy, player that I’ve ever been around. And I still think he’s got something left in his body to play. Smart, knows how to play.’’
Ryan’s only season in Indy was “a tough year,’’ he said in January. “Personally, for the team, I think all of us, it was hard and disappointing. I think we came into the season with high expectations, just didn’t work out the way we thought it would.’’
At the time, he made it clear he wasn’t ready to retire.
“I still love playing,’’ Ryan said. “I still love playing and still feel like, honestly, there’s a lot of good football in my body.
“We’ll see what happens.’’
The 2022 disappointment aside, Ryan remains one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history. He ranks No. 7 with 62,792 yards, No. 9 with 381 touchdowns, No. 5 with 5,551 completions and 8,464 attempts, and No. 6 with 46 game-winning drives.
Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.