The Indianapolis Colts may not have officially said so when they benched former NFL MVP Matt Ryan, but they didn’t have to.
They are in rebuilding mode.
As head coach Frank Reich took to the podium and addressed reporters on Monday after the Colts’ 19-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, he took everyone by surprise when he pitched his quarterback veteran. Instead, Indianapolis won’t just be launching sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger for Week 7, it will be for the rest of the season.
The movement itself is understandable. Ryan is simply made as a starting quarterback, his 37-year-old body unable to drive the ball downfield. Worse, he can’t seem to take care of football anymore either, leading the league in interceptions (nine), fumbles (11) and ranking second in sacks (24).
His inability to retain possession has been a major concern over the past two years, having led the league in fumbles since October 2020 (27).
Financial reasons also play a major role in Ryan’s benching, as NBC Sports’ Mike Florio notes.
“Specifically, Ryan has $7.205 million in guaranteed extra salary in 2023 if injured, and a roster bonus of $10 million in 2023, which is also guaranteed if injured,” Florio said. “That’s $17.205 million the Colts potentially owe Ryan (on top of the $12 million) if he comes out of the 2022 season with an injury that prevents him from passing a physical by mid- march.”
While there’s little argument as to why the Colts are benching Ryan despite a decent 3-3-1 start, the problem is this – Indianapolis has failed in recent years due to their reliance on a carousel of quarterback.
Since Andrew Luck’s retirement in 2019, the Colts will have pitched six different quarterbacks once Ehlinger takes the field against the Washington Commanders.
Instead of taking the time to scout a quarterback and draft him high, Indianapolis relied on quick fixes, namely veteran quarterbacks. They had decent success with Philip Rivers at quarterback — he led them to the playoffs — and posted a winning record with Carson Wentz, but Wentz failed to lead the Colts to the playoffs.
Finally, they bench Ryan — after giving up a third-round draft pick — after just seven games.
The responsibility ends here.
Maybe Ehlinger turns out to be a viable starting quarterback. Maybe he’s even leading an Indianapolis team that won a playoff berth last year with more success than Ryan.
But that’s probably unlikely.
That means assuming Ehlinger doesn’t turn out to be the franchise’s quarterback in the final 10 games of the 2022 season, the Colts will have to look for another quarterback — again.
For an organization that uncovered two all-time great quarterbacks with first-round picks in Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the organization went in a completely different direction.
More quick fixes. No more short-term thinking. The Colts’ time to draft a high quarterback and develop it begins in 2023. The 2023 NFL Draft is full of top quarterback talent, with prospects including CJ Stroud, Bryce Young and Will Levis which should be the best three quarterbacks taken.
The Colts have won only one playoff game since general manager Chris Ballard took over in 2017. That’s a significant drop from his predecessors, with former Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson winning. three games in his five seasons in that role. Meanwhile, Chris Polian led the Colts to one Super Bowl appearance in his three seasons as general manager.
That obviously doesn’t even mention the massive success of Bill Polian, the team’s first general manager when Jim Irsay took over as owner in 1997.
In other words, it is a team that cannot be rebuilt. Outside of Manning’s rookie season in 1998 and his injury-plagued campaign in 2011, Indianapolis has been a consistent team for the past 25 years.
As Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer noted, Irsay has been more involved in personnel decisions when it comes to quarterbacking.
“Another thing that shouldn’t be ignored – owner Jim Irsay’s involvement in the decision,” Breer said of Ryan’s bench. Reich said he and general manager Chris Ballard met with Irsay on Sunday night to discuss it, and the change was made with the intention that Ehlinger would remain the team’s starter for the remainder of the season. not be ignored.”
The reason the Colts have gone in a quick fix direction at quarterback for the past few years is due to Irsay’s desire to find his next Manning or Luck.
“Irsay has been more involved in quarterbacking decisions over the past year, and those over there think he wants the organization to get to a point where they have the long-term solution they had in the past, with Peyton Manning and (they thought, at least) Andrew Luck,” Breer said. “The hope, at the beginning of this year, was that Matt Ryan could hold the fort for three or four years, like Manning did it in Denver, and thus be more than a band-aid.”
Needless to say, Irsay’s decision-making is a major reason the Colts find themselves in the mess they’re in right now.
The Colts have given up significant draft capital and are paying Ryan guaranteed money to sit on the bench after a missed seven-game stint. It comes a year after Indianapolis dropped a conditional first-rounder in 2022 and a third-rounder in 2021 for Wentz — only to quickly drop the 29-year-old after a strong 27 touchdown campaign last season.
This shift from Wentz to Ryan turns out to be wrong in retrospect.
Irsay directs the decision-making and the Colts have paid the price in recent years.
It’s time to stop this trend now and spending time developing a true franchise quarterback.