The NFL offseason slows down for no one …
You heard over and over last year that the Colts didn’t need, or want, Carson Wentz to be superman—and yet, there they were at the end of the season, still begging him to take the layups that were there for him in Frank Reich’s offense.
Matt Ryan, it’s fair to assume, won’t have that problem. The Falcons traded Ryan to Indy on Monday for the second of their third-round picks (Indianapolis keeps the 73rd pick, which they got from Washington for Wentz), and in the wash the Colts got a quarterback who is, more or less, exactly what they need: a point guard who will maximize the other guys that GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich are going to put on the floor with him.
Last year’s trade for Wentz was a gamble that Reich’s old protégé could harness his ability and propensity to play heroball, and play effectively for Indy. Conversely, there’s very little projection on Ryan. He should be able to get the ball out, and to the Michael Pittmans and Jonathan Taylors and Mo Alie-Coxes that the Colts bring to the table.
That doesn’t mean Ryan is still the guy he was in 2016. The key, though, is that the Colts won’t ask him to be.
“Really smart, still accurate to the short and intermediate levels,” says an NFC exec who has studied Ryan and gone against him regularly. “You have to protect him, he can’t move at all. His ability to throw the long ball was always about average and it’s in decline now—he can do it better than [Drew] Brees at the end, but it’s similar to that. … [But] he can get them in good plays, hand the ball to Taylor, and be efficient and accurate when he throws.
“He’s still good. … [the Falcons] just didn’t have enough around him anymore.”
And the Falcons still looked at him favorably—as a quarterback who could navigate traffic, with the toughness to take hits, play through injury, and throw effectively from different arm angles with chaos around him.
The good news for Ryan is he’ll have more help in Indy, and plenty of motivation to show people, at 38, what he’s got left. And if you’re Ballard and Reich, he’s different than Wentz or Philip Rivers or Jacoby Brissett—with a good shot to be, say, a three-year bridge to whomever the long-term answer at quarterback is. That is especially valuable this year, with Indy being without a first-round pick, and the draft’s quarterback class being so mediocre.
• Now, to be sure, the Colts dug themselves this hole with the swing-and-miss—and it was a big miss—on Wentz. But give Ballard credit, he got out in front of the quarterback market and moved his embattled starter, and his contract, off the roster, and got a better return than most believed he could. And now? Well, if you add up the picks that went back-and-forth between the Colts, and the Eagles, Commanders and Falcons, here’s how all three net out.
Colts get: 2022 second-round pick (42nd overall), 2022 third-round round pick (73rd overall), 2023 second-/third-round pick.
Colts give: 2021 third-round pick (84th overall), 2022 first-round pick (16th overall), 2022 second-round pick (47th overall), 2022 seventh-round pick (237th overall).
So if we assume Wentz is the Commanders’ starter, then the Colts gave up a 1, a 2, a 3 and a 7 for two 2s and a 3, and the 2s and 3s they got are higher than the ones they gave. And for that swap where three Top 100 picks went out and another three came in, they got that one-year swing with Wentz, and then Ryan to replace him.
Ideally, you don’t make the trade for Wentz in the first place. But from an asset management standpoint, Ballard did pretty well here.
• And just to put a bow on who Ryan is, I thought it was important to remember his place in Falcons history. He arrived with the franchise at rock bottom—Mike Vick had been sentenced for helping to run a dog-fighting ring, and Bobby Petrino had bailed on the team in the middle of the season prior. There was a new GM (Thomas Dimitroff) and coach (Mike Smith) in town, and a lot of (warranted) skepticism on the direction of the team.
Then, Ryan was drafted third overall, and the Falcons made the playoffs in four of the next five seasons, and got to a Super Bowl a few years after that.
“Matt Ryan was my first draft pick when I started out in Atlanta,” Dimitroff texted on Monday. “His unique intelligence and leadership ability made him the star of our new era. Matt has experienced exponential growth as a leader on and off the field and demonstrates commitment, competitiveness, durability, toughness and skills for the game unlike any other. I’m excited to see his passion and firepower impact the AFC and wish him the best of luck in Indianapolis.”
It's fair to say a lot of the people he’s leaving behind in Atlanta are too.
• Marcus Mariota turns 29 during the season, so it’s not like the Falcons are bringing in some young buck who hasn’t had his shot in the NFL. But, for a team that will be carrying a $40.525 million dead cap charge for training its old quarterback, Mariota could represent a Wentz-type of shot for Arthur Smith to take at the position, if the Falcons don’t wind up drafting one in April.
The interesting thing is that Mariota is now the kind of reclamation project that once took his job when playing for Smith in Tennessee. You’ll remember in 2019, Smith did great work to resurrect the career of Ryan Tannehill—and helped to make him effective enough to unseat Mariota as the Titans’ starter. Now, we’ll see if Smith can do the same sort of thing for Mariota in Atlanta.
The truth is that Mariota wasn’t very good at the end in Nashville. And beat up as he was, a lot of NFL people have assumed he’s just not the same guy he’d been coming. This should be a good shot for Mariota to prove those people wrong.
• The Niners’ asking price for Jimmy Garoppolo has been steady for some time (other teams have said for a couple weeks that it’s about two second-round picks), and the Browns came in high over the weekend, with teams hearing they wanted a first-round pick for Baker Mayfield in the aftermath of the Deshaun Watson.
I’m pretty sure Cleveland’s going to have to adjust its price, and San Francisco might have to, too. In the end, you need suitors. Indy is gone now. The Saints are too, based on what they’re giving Jameis Winston, and already have Taysom Hill on the books. And Atlanta seems less-than-likely to want either Garoppolo or Mayfield. Which leaves … who? The Panthers? The Seahawks (hard to envision the Niners dealing their guy in-division)? Yeah, it’s hard to see where a bounty is going to come from at this point.
• With that in mind, it will fascinating to see what this does to Kyler Murray’s strategy in dealing with the Cardinals. His camp wants a new deal before the draft, and is willing to demand a trade if there’s not movement toward one between now and then. A big reason why is because post-draft, teams usually have their quarterback plans squared away, which would make finding a solid landing spot difficult.
But as it stands now, those sorts of opportunities are already drying up. We’ll see if that creates more urgency on Murray’s part to get a resolution with the team.
• When you start putting all of this stuff together—and I’m definitely not the first person to do this—it’s pretty clear how ramped the competition within the AFC is: Ryan and Russell Wilson are leaving the NFC for the AFC (as are guys like Davante Adams, Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Marcus Williams and Randy Gregory), and others that changed teams, like Deshaun Watson, are staying in the conference.
That, of course, puts pressure on contenders to stay aggressive.
“You gotta have a quarterback and then you gotta have a defense and more specifically ways to get after the quarterback,” Bills GM Brandon Beane said Sunday. “How you gonna do that? I think you look at every year and you say, 'Where did you come up short in the biggest games?' And we had the No. 1 defense, but we weren't always able to get the quarterback down. And we didn't have a double-digit sack player on our team.”
So they wound up taking a big swing on Miller, similar to the swing the Raiders took on Jones or, to a lesser degree, the Broncos took on Gregory. Those teams, of course, know what they’re up against, and these moves are proof positive of it.
• One more on Miller—I always think smart teams are asking the question, before pursuing a free agent or a veteran in a trade, why the other team are letting a guy go. And that, to me, is what’s fascinating about the length to which Buffalo went to go and land Miller.
The Rams weren’t just letting Miller go. They offered a deal similar to Buffalo’s, it was just that only the first two years were guaranteed. The Bills’ willingness to carry guarantees into a third year certainly was a factor. But Buffalo figured, at $17.5 million per over those three years, the dice roll was worth taking, even if Miller will be 35 for the last of those seasons.
Remember, the Bills have gotten plenty out of older rushers, like Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, in recent years.
• The Patriots awoke this week to bring in Leonard Fournette and Malcolm Butler for visits and, to be sure, that meshes with the way they’d been talking with the agents for key free agents back in Indianapolis at the combine—telling them they weren’t going to pay sticker price for the first-wave guys, but would be there if the bottom fell out on the market for guys they liked.
Some felt like it was a little ridiculous that they’d articulate that so brazenly, because it’s the sort of approach they used, in tandem with the lure of playing with Tom Brady, to land bargains in their championship years. Now, we’ll get to see if that sort of thing is still out there for Bill Belchick and Co.
• Speaking of Brady, I loved Chris Godwin giving everyone a little window into the quarterback’s recruiting efforts on a group text the two share with Mike Evans. Godwin told local reporters on Monday that eight days ago, before he let the world know, Brady gave his receivers the news in that thread. Suffice it to say, it had an effect on Godwin.
“Me and Mike were so gassed up, like, ‘Yo, what are you talking about? You just retired?!’ ” Godwin said. “It’s hard to walk away from the game when you're as dedicated as Tom is.”
Now, because Evans is under contract and Godwin was tagged, he really didn’t need to get those guys back in the fold. But it wasn’t long before Godwin was agreeing to an extension, or more texts were going out to other guys that Brady wanted back on his side.
As a result, Ryan Jensen and Carlton Davis are staying, and I’d bet there are a few more of the Bucs’ free agents that make similar decisions in the weeks to come.
More NFL Coverage:
• MMQB: How the Browns Got Back in the Deshaun Watson Chase
• How 22 Women and One Star Quarterback Got Here
• The Browns Will Never Live Down the Watson Trade
• This Is How Far Teams Will Go for a Franchise QB