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Why The Colts' Trade For Matt Ryan Took More Than Just Good Fortune

The Colts may have been lucky that Matt Ryan became available, but trading for him was hardly the sole product of good fortune. 

Frank Reich Matt Ryan

When the Colts parted ways with head coach Jim Mora in early January of 2001, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay recalled that "Bill Polian and I had no one on our radar" to replace him.

A week later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Tony Dungy. You know the rest of the story: The Colts hired Dungy, went 85-27 in his tenure as head coach and brought a Lombardi Trophy to Indianapolis.

Did the Colts get lucky that Dungy became available two decades ago? Probably. But they had to be in a position as a franchise to hire an accomplished, highly sought-after coach in Dungy.

They were, and they did.

Fast-forward to 2022, and as the Colts decided to move on from Carson Wentz, "there was no Matt Ryan when you're looking over the landscape" of quarterbacks, head coach Frank Reich said. So did the Colts get fortunate that an accomplished veteran in Ryan became available?

"Damn right we did," general manager Chris Ballard said.

But just like 20 years ago, there's more to this story than just getting lucky.

"On the surface people can stay it was happenstance or you're just lucky, and it's not that way," Irsay said. "That's what Chris Ballard did and Frank did is grinding every day — you're in a dark tunnel, you can't see the end of it. You know, boy, this seems like fruitless work, where's this thing go and you're grinding every day and all of a sudden you get some daylight in there and one thing connects to another, and this magical fabric has been created by the football Gods and presented to you because you work so hard, you're open minded, you kept your oars in as many ponds as he could and he did everything possible to create that and you have to have good fortunate but it usually comes your way, it's just a question of when, not if."

The Colts were confident that as the quarterback dominoes fell this offseason, they could be in a position to take advantage of that chain reaction. And when Ryan began to assess his options, it became clear to the 36-year-old that, if he decided to leave the team he quarterbacked for a decade and a half, Indianapolis was where he wanted to be.

And Ryan, despite infrequent overlap with the AFC South, took note over the last few years of two things going on in Indianapolis: One, Reich's coaching acumen; and two, the strong roster put together by Ballard.

"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."

Ryan pointed to Reich's ability to "morph" his offense around the skills and talents of his players, which has led to the Colts scoring the eighth-most points in the NFL over the last four seasons despite having four different Week 1 starting quarterbacks.

"I think it's a good sign when you got quarterbacks that want to be in your organization," Ballard said (this applies to the Colts signing Philip Rivers two years ago, too). "They're not coming if you're just a dysfunctional mess.

"... I think it's a good sign for Frank and who he is was a coach. It's also a good sign of the players we have on our roster and what people around the league are saying talking about our program."

So the Colts were lucky Ryan became available, but it wasn't a fluke that he wanted to come to a team coached by Reich and built by Ballard.

It takes more than good fortune for a quarterback to feel the way Ryan does about Indianapolis, after all.

"As I looked into it, I knew there was only one spot that I wanted to go," Ryan said. "There was no doubt that if I were to make a move, this is exactly where I wanted to be."

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