Matt Ryan is out as the Colts quarterback just seven games into his Indianapolis career. Barring injury to new starter Sam Ehlinger or veteran backup Nick Foles, it's likely Ryan has also played his last snap in blue. Trying but failing to get off their annual QB carousel, the Colts would risk owing up to $17 million of Ryan's remaining contract by returning him to the field -- he has injury guarantees built into his deal -- but could save anywhere from $18M to $29M by releasing or trading him in 2023.
So what happens next for the longtime Falcons QB? In all likelihood, nothing. Ehlinger will start, allowing coach Frank Reich to experiment with a more mobile signal-caller with his own job potentially on the line. Foles will be the No. 2. And Ryan will man the sidelines, preserved for the scenario in which Indy accidentally stumbles into the late-season playoff picture and, due to injury or performance, he gets a shot at winter redemption. Regardless, odds are he'll be ushered out after the season, either via trade, outright release or a mutual parting of ways via retirement.
On the off chance Ryan and/or the Colts are unwilling to wait, and prefer an immediate split a la Donovan McNabb with the Vikings back in 2011, here's a look at three teams that might be interested:
Bill Belichick is all but courting QB drama at this point, refusing to declare either Mac Jones or rookie Bailey Zappe his starter a day after using both in an ugly home loss to the Bears. Jones is only a year removed from entering as a No. 15 overall draft pick, and Zappe has flashed energy as his fill-in, but neither youngster looks overly comfortable entering the second half of 2022. If Belichick is desperate to salvage the season in a tough AFC East, perhaps he'd welcome the one-time star he once edged in the Super Bowl. No one, after all, likes to resurrect veteran castoffs quite like him. Ryan, meanwhile, has the Boston College background, wouldn't impede on the long-term future of Jones or Zappe, and could conceivably lean on their ground game.
Kyle Shanahan had no issue touting two "starters" at QB when he welcomed back Jimmy Garoppolo while Trey Lance prepared to "take over" under center, so why not three? With Lance now out until 2023, the 49ers' only insurance behind the injury-prone Garoppolo is rookie Brock Purdy. Ryan, meanwhile, spent two of his best years under Shanahan in Atlanta. If San Francisco is all in on an NFC West and playoff run, as its trade for Christian McCaffrey suggests, they could conceivably welcome Ryan as the new No. 2, giving the veteran the opportunity to come off the bench in an emergency down the stretch. Then, depending on how things shake out, they'd have a trifecta of potential starters or trade chips going into 2023.
Off to a surprise 5-2 start with a playoff bid on the horizon, the Jets have answered questions at basically every position except the most important one, where 2021 first-rounder Zach Wilson has been deployed as little more than a caretaker of a heavy ground game. As they inch closer to contending, will general manager Joe Douglas, who's clearly invested in 2022 after dealing for James Robinson, be content to enter the dance with only Joe Flacco behind Wilson, who's already been injured twice in two NFL seasons? Adding Ryan might incite more drama on a team that doesn't need it, but there are ties here, too: besides hailing from the nearby Philly area, Ryan worked with Jets offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur in Atlanta, and Jets coach Robert Saleh would have good intel on the veteran from his days under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.