Jim Irsay has placed his hands on the Colts’ personnel steering wheel at key junctures this year. Nine months after the owner insisted Carson Wentz be a Colts one-and-done, he led the way to Wentz’s replacement being benched.
Over the past few weeks, Irsay let Chris Ballard and Frank Reich know a change was needed at quarterback, Zak Keefer of The Athletic reports, noting Ballard was onboard with benching Matt Ryan for Sam Ehlinger before Reich reached that conclusion (subscription required).
Pointing out that the quarterback position provides an exception to Irsay’s policy of letting Ballard and Reich run the show, Keefer adds a Sunday-night meeting — similar to the Irsay-Ballard-Reich summit shortly after the Colts’ Week 18 meltdown in Jacksonville — led to the call to demote Ryan. Ryan’s sprained shoulder will sideline him in Week 8, but he will soon become a healthy backup for the first time since Boston College’s 2005 season. Ryan’s 12 turnovers — nine interceptions, three lost fumbles — lead the league.
Irsay’s prompting also comes months after he instructed Ballard to finalize the trade for Ryan, whom the Falcons dealt to the Colts for a 2022 third-round pick. Indianapolis went more than a week in between the Wentz and Ryan trades, discussing a deal with Jameis Winston during the days between those moves. But once the Falcons’ Deshaun Watson courtship commenced, the Ryan-to-Indy path formed.
The Colts have traded a first-rounder and two thirds to bring in their past two starting QBs, though they recouped considerable value by shipping Wentz to Washington this offseason. Indianapolis will now turn to a former sixth-round pick at the game’s marquee position.
Select scouts communicated to SI.com’s Albert Breer they believe Ryan’s arm is shot, and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio points to Ryan’s injury guarantees as the reason the Colts are moving away from him seven games in. The Colts restructured Ryan’s contract this offseason, ballooning his 2023 cap number to $35.2MM. Ryan will see $12MM guaranteed next year, but $7.2MM more would come via injury guarantees if the 37-year-old passer cannot pass a physical on Day 3 of the 2023 league year, Florio adds. Ryan’s $10MM 2023 roster bonus is also guaranteed for injury, leading to the Colts’ effort to bubble-wrap their initial 2022 starter.
The Colts continue to battle uphill in the years after Andrew Luck‘s August 2019 retirement. After acquiring Ryan, they joined the Broncos and Commanders in starting a sixth Week 1 quarterback in six years. Fewer than 10 teams have gone through that much QB1 turnover since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Indianapolis will run that streak to seven next season. Only two post-merger teams — the Chargers from 1987-93 and Browns from 2013-19 — have trotted out different Week 1 starting QBs in seven straight years. Ehlinger, who has yet to throw a regular-season pass, will attempt to make his case to be that starter.