Inside the Indy Decision
Over the last week or so, Ryan determined he would have to make a decision on his future. It came down to two choices: Stay in Atlanta or come to Indianapolis.
"As I looked into it, I knew there was only one spot that I wanted to go," Ryan said Tuesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "There was no doubt that if I were to make a move, this is exactly where I wanted to be."
On Saturday night, Ryan hopped on a Zoom with general manager Chris Ballard, head coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier. Ryan – who, over his 14 years in the NFL, has become plugged in with what's going on around the league – already knew some things about how the Colts operate and what the team's roster looks like.
But that call on Saturday set things into motion for Ryan and his family to arrive in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
"Their passion, their commitment, their professionalism, the accountability Chris has for himself and what he does, the empathy Frank has for my situation of understanding you've been in a certain spot and done it one way, and don't ever forget that," Ryan said. "It's an incredible part of it, but this next chapter can be even better.
"It was a really, really cool meeting for me to take and I had to sit down with my family and say, 'What makes the most sense for us?' I just knew with the roster that they talked about, the belief in the players that they have here, the belief in the way that they do things – the time was just right for me and I felt like I needed to do it.
"I was up in my house and I was in my office and I came downstairs and my wife was like, 'You look different.' I knew kind of at that point that was the direction we wanted to go. It took some time to really think it through and discuss it, and when we did we came to that conclusion."
Ryan expressed his appreciation for the Falcons organization, from owner Arthur Blank on down, multiple times during his press conference on Tuesday. Leaving the franchise where he became a legend and the city where he put down roots was not an easy decision. Ryan later said in an interview with Matt Taylor, Casey Vallier and myself that he had to explain to his slightly confused twin boys, Marshall and Johnny, why they were going to have to take the Atlanta Falcons sheets off their beds.
But armed with brand-new Colts No. 2 jerseys, "Blue" dolls and their new best friend – Blue, the Colts' mascot, who chased them around the team facility all day – Ryan's boys had a blast on Tuesday.
"Yeah, it's hard, but the Colts were so good to them this morning," Ryan said. "... I think our boys are just fine. And my wife's fired up. We're all excited."
The new quarterback and his family flew into Indianapolis to tour the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, meet with staff and hold his first press conference on Tuesday.
The Colts' Patience Paid Off
From around 4:30 p.m. on March 16 through 4 p.m. on March 21, the two quarterbacks on the Colts' roster – Sam Ehlinger and James Morgan – hadn't attempted a pass in an NFL regular season game. After trading Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders, the Colts were left to answer the biggest question a team can face: Who's playing quarterback?
"We knew there was going to be a little panic mode going in just knowing we had some question marks at the position," Ballard said in an interview on the Pat McAfee Show Tuesday. "But we also knew there were going to be some options out there and if we were just patient and let the thing play out, we thought it would work out for us. We feel like we got a little lucky with getting Matt Ryan in the building."
Ballard also drew a line between the Colts signing Philip Rivers two years ago and trading for Ryan this week.
"Talking to Matt, it was a lot like when we talked to Philip," Ballard said. "You're getting a guy that wants to win, is driven to win, we think he's got a lot left in his career, he's really smart, takes care of his body, does all the right things and we think he's going to add a piece to us that's going to help us."
How Ryan Fits in the Mighty Morphin' Colts Offense
Ryan, as I mentioned earlier, seems pretty plugged in to everything going on around the NFL – "I mean, I like football," he laughed. It was notable, though, how Ryan talked about what he expects his transition into Reich's offense to look like – it was more than just a boilerplate "they're really good, and I'm excited" answer.
"When you look at Frank, which is so interesting to me, is they morph depending on how he sees things, the players that he has and what they're doing," Ryan said. "So I feel confident that I'll be able to learn it pretty quickly."
That speaks not only to Ryan's perception of the Colts' offense, but how positively the work Reich's put in over the last four years is viewed around the league. It's not just the results (a top-10 scoring offense in three of his four years here) that impress folks like Ryan, it's the process (fitting those offenses to four different starting quarterbacks, and different collections of talent around those QBs).
"I've been watching what this team has done the last three or four years and building and getting better and really feel like it was the kind of place you'd want to come in the position that I'm in," Ryan said. "I'm really excited to be here."
As for the transition into Reich's offense – it's not like Ryan worked with one offensive coordinator or one head coach over his decade and a half in Atlanta. He played for three head coaches (Mike Smith, Dan Quinn, Arthur Smith) and five offensive coordinators (in order: Mike Mularkey, Dirk Koetter, Kyle Shanahan, Steve Sarkisian, Koetter again and Dave Ragone) with the Falcons. Through those experiences, he learned how to effectively communicate to make the transition as seamless as possible from coach to coach and scheme to scheme.
"You have to learn what's important and what doesn't matter," Ryan said. "Some of the stuff they might keep harping on, coaches in certain ways — like, yeah, know know, that's fine. It doesn't really matter.
"We got to get to the nuts and bolts of this, we got to hammer out protections, we need to know inside and out how we're doing our protections. We need to understand progressions, reads, checks, those kid of things.
"We'll learn, I might have called this a dagger route, you might call it a Dover route, you might call it an in-cut. We'll learn, we'll get in the same language in time, but making sure we know exactly what we're expected to do with protections, progressions and checks. And being on the same page on that, to me, is where we have to start."
And going through that process with Reich – not just the coach, the but person – is something Ryan is looking forward to in the coming weeks and months.
"I know a lot of people that have either worked, played for or been around him and everybody says the same thing — he's one of the best people you'll ever meet," Ryan said. "He's one of the most organized, smart, thoughtful coaches you're going to be around and I'm fired up. I'm going to try and give him every ounce of effort that I have."
What's Left in the Tank?
Ryan will turn 37 in May, but he pointed out on Tuesday that it wasn't long ago that he was the second-youngest quarterback in his own division (this being in 2020, when the 43-year-old Tom Brady and 41-year-old Drew Brees were under center in the NFC South). He also doesn't view himself as being near the end of his career as he departs Atlanta.
"I'd like to play as long as I can," Ryan said. "I feel really good, my body feels really good. I still feel like I can play at as high a level as I ever have and as long as that is – nobody has a crystal ball to know exactly how long it's going to be. As long as I feel good and feel like I can play well, I'm going to try and play."
Ryan's arm strength has not diminished and his accuracy, whether it's on check downs, intermediate throws or deep shots, remains one of his best traits. And it's not like he arrived in Indianapolis with anything close to an extensive injury history – this is a guy who, of a possible 225 regular season starts over the last 14 years, has made 222 of them.
I asked Ryan about how he's achieved that remarkable durability on Tuesday.
"Number one, you have to get lucky," Ryan said. "You have to be a little bit lucky in that. I'm not sure that's the most important part of it. But there is a bit of luck that goes into that.
"I'm a big believer in sleep, recovery, taking care of yourself, getting away from it — being efficient with your time. I think sometimes early in my career, probably overworked myself when it came to film study or whatever and I've gotten to a place later in my career where I'm in a much better place of knowing exactly what I need to do.
"And then also being flexible that each week can be different. Like, what you need this week, Week 1 might be completely different than what you need Week 18 and be okay with that — a little bit of flexibility goes a long way."
The "Beast" in the Backfield
As the Falcons prepared for their Week 17 game against the Buffalo Bills last season, Ryan watched some tape from the Colts' 41-15 dismantling of the Bills in Week 11.
So he's seen a bit of Jonathan Taylor, at least beyond the weekly highlights the Colts' running back produced in 2021.
"He's a beast," Ryan said. "An absolute beast."
Every Colts fan or everyone who had Taylor on their fantasy team last year would agree, of course. But what about Taylor makes him so impressive to Ryan?
"I think he runs the ball extremely well, he's got great vision, great balance, good speed, good power, catches the ball well out of the backfield, willing in pass protection," Ryan said.
On that last note – pass protection – Ryan had lunch on Tuesday with two of the big men tasked with protecting him, Pro Bowlers Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson*. He said both those guys raved about Taylor's willingness and desire to be great in that area of his game, too.
"I've been around a long time, you don't get backs that do all of that very often and when they do, they're gamechangers," Ryan said. "So, I'm fired up to play with him. I really am. Sent him that text message yesterday and said I can't wait to get the chance and opportunity to play with him."
*Quick fun fact: Nelson and Ryan, while they haven't played together, have a mutual connection. Ryan's cousin is Mike McGlinchey, the San Francisco 49ers tackle who played next to Nelson in college at Notre Dame.
One Final Thought
I was thinking about this watching Ryan's twins run around the Colts' facility on Tuesday.
It's rare for the children of NFL players to grow up with memories of their dad playing in the NFL. The average career in the NFL is short – a little over three years. By the time some kids are old enough to remember things, their dad isn't playing anymore.
It's something former Colts tight end Jack Doyle talked about with his boys – he wanted to play long enough for them to remember dad playing in the NFL. He accomplished that before retiring earlier this year.
Seeing this video below – and one of Ryan's sons saying "dad, it's your No. 2 jersey!" lends perspective to just how special this all must be for the Ryan family, and will be over the next few years in Indianapolis.