Matt Ryan was ready for a change and Indianapolis seemed like the perfect place to make a title run.
The 14-year NFL veteran and 2016 league MVP left Atlanta and arrived at his new team complex Tuesday, hoping to become the third straight veteran quarterback to win a Super Bowl in his first season with a new team.
“Yeah, it looks really good what Matthew Stafford did in Los Angles last year, making that transition work so well, and what Tom (Brady) did, I saw that first-hand in the division the year before,” Ryan said. “I hope we can ride that trend that’s been going on and make it work for us.”
The Colts certainly believe he can after giving up a third-round pick, No. 82 overall, to acquire Ryan on Monday.
They’re also hoping the four-time Pro Bowler who led Atlanta to its second Super Bowl appearance following the 2016 season can stabilize a position that’s been in a state of flux. Ryan is expected to become Indy’s sixth different opening-day starter in six years this fall.
Ryan has down this path before.
In 2008, the 23-year-old rookie from Boston College went to the Falcons with expectations of rescuing a franchise reeling from coach Bobby Petrino’s resignation after just 13 games and the imprisonment of quarterback Michael Vick for running a dogfighting ring.
Ryan responded by leading Atlanta to the playoffs for the first time in four years, earning the nickname “Matty Ice” and becoming the best quarterback in franchise history. At times, it appeared Ryan and the Falcons could never part.
But the organization’s decision last week to publicly pursue Deshaun Watson as Ryan’s replacement and the ensuing decision to rebuild made Ryan rethink where he wanted to play. And after a Saturday night video conference with Colts general manager Chris Ballard, coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and others, Ryan was convinced it was time for a change.
“At first I didn’t know if we were going to be forced into a trade,” he said, explaining how Reich’s empathy for changing teams after a long career in one place played a key role. “Ultimately, it came down to a decision between staying in Atlanta or coming to Indianapolis. The time was right for me and I felt like I needed to do it.”
He showed no regrets, thanking the Falcons for helping him become a model of consistency on the field, developing relationships he still cherishes and sharing so many memorable moments.
Now he’s joining a team with Super Bowl aspirations. The Colts lost in the wild-card round following the 2020 season and looked like a shoo-in to make the postseason last season until losing its final two games.
Ryan likes Indy’s cast — a strong offensive line with three returning starters and capable in-house replacements for another spot, NFL rushing champ Jonathan Taylor, emerging receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and a strong defense that added veteran pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue last week.
And the Colts believe Ryan is the missing piece.
“We got our guy!!!” Pittman posted on Twitter in all caps following Monday’s announcement.
Indy also has been down this path since Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement in 2019.
Two years ago, they signed veteran Philip Rivers who had a solid season in his only year with the Colts. He retired in January 2021. Last March, Indy acquired Carson Wentz in a deal with Philadelphia with the belief he could become their long-term franchise quarterback. Instead, he was dealt to Washington two weeks ago.
The biggest question surrounding the 36-year-old Ryan is how much longer he will play with two years left on his current contract?
“It’s funny, I played in a division where it was Tom Brady, Drew Brees and then me at one point and I was like 35,” he said. “I was like, ‘I feel young. Tom’s 43 and Drew’s 41 but I feel good.’ I really do. My body feels really great. I feel like I’ve gotten myself into a spot where I know how to train. But I feel great. I don’t feel like an old man.”
The Colts don’t see an old man, either. Instead, they see someone who can accomplish something only Peyton Manning has and bring the Lombardi Trophy to Indianapolis.
“I was texting with some of the guys yesterday and every one of their text messages, their first one was about winning. That’s really unique,” Ryan said before donning his familiar No. 2, only in blue and white. “I realize I’m one part of this wheel and I need to do my job and pull my weight, but it’s a pretty strong wheel.”