The quarterback carousel has continued at a rapid pace this offseason with the Atlanta Falcons trading longtime veteran quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, in exchange for a third-round draft pick.
We've seen multiple high-priced QB's on the move this offseason, beginning with Russell Wilson, then Deshaun Watson, and now Ryan. This trade is going to have an impact on both franchises involved, and we'll dive into what the repercussions are for both teams moving into the 2022 NFL season.
The Falcons are essentially packing it in for the season. No, their coaching staff would never suggest that to be the truth, but the roster is arguably the worst in football and one of the worst we've seen in years. The team was determined to move forward, and that was clear by eating a record-setting $40.5m dead cap hit with Ryan's departure.
Looking at the trade from a larger perspective, it probably made sense for the Falcons to move forward without Ryan because the team just isn't prepared to compete right now, and Ryan is nearing the end of his career. It's an admission that the roster isn't where it needs to be; yet at the same time, Ryan appears to have been the push behind the trade.
Either way, the Falcons are moving forward without the quarterback who's led the franchise since 2008 and have since replaced him with free agent Marcus Mariota. Mariota previously spent five seasons with Head Coach Arthur Smith in Tennessee, the final season which was directly under Smith's reign as the team's offensive coordinator.
There is familiarity there and Mariota was arguably the best remaining option available. He hasn't started any games over the past two seasons and served as Derek Carr's backup and wildcat quarterback in Las Vegas. Now, Mariota will get a shot to prove his worth as a starter for the second time in his career.
Mariota's projection isn't very straightforward. The Falcons are a bare roster that doesn't have many standout talents, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line ranked 19th in sacks allowed per game at 2.4, 23rd in points per play with 0.311, and 23rd in yards per play at 5.1.
Atlanta features a patchwork offensive line and a receiver room that will be without Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage for various reasons. Jones departed over a year ago by way of trade, Ridley suspended for the entire season, and Gage elected to sign elsewhere in free agency. The leading receiver that remains — Olamide Zaccheaus — had a career-high 406 receiving yards in 2021.
There aren't many pieces or reasons to be excited about this offense on any level, but tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Cordarrelle Patterson are now in line to be force fed. They'll likely put up lackluster touchdown totals but should be target hogs in the passing game and opportunity is a major part of the production equation. Just last season, Gage ranked as the WR20 from Week 6 onwards in full-point PPR leagues. Both Pitts and Patterson have the ability to follow suit this season.
Mariota and the remaining Titans quarterbacks who spot-started over his tenure, have a history of targeting the tight end position at a strong rate. It's no secret that each team operates differently schematically and is built uniquely by way of roster construction, but Pitts is the best player left in Atlanta and should stand to benefit with Mariota's addition. He's had plenty of experience working with talented tight ends like Delanie Walker and even Jonnu Smith, and has shown the propensity to target the position.
The Colts are once again starting a new quarterback in Week 1, continuing their streak of having a brand new opening day starter for five straight seasons. The Carson Wentz experiment failed this past season and the team elected to move on from their mistake, recouping as many assets as possible.
Now, Ryan steps into a much better situation with a solidified offensive line, better weapons, and arguably the best running back in football in Jonathan Taylor.
Ironically, Ryan and Wentz weren't very dissimilar this past season by way of statistics, but Ryan managed to do it with a significantly worse roster on all levels. The longtime vet has shown us what his floor looks like and it's much higher and safer than most at the position. If Ryan is able to capture the same spark as any of his formidable years with a much better surrounding cast, the Colts could be much more competitive this time around.
Ryan is unlike his predecessor in Wentz when it comes to play style, but is fairly similar to the guy who preceded Wentz in Phillip Rivers. In his lone season in Indianapolis, Rivers delivered a 4,000-plus yard passing season, 24 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and an 11-5 record. Ryan has the ability to do the same, but will likely attempt fewer passes than the 600-plus he's attempted in three of the past four seasons.
It doesn't take a genius to understand this move should result in a positive for wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Ryan has played with top receivers before, targeting Julio an average of 10.5 times per game over the stretch of 2014 - 2019. Meanwhile, Pittman was targeted 7.6 times per game this past season and the Colts have moved on from fellow skill position players Zach Pascal and Jack Doyle, and potentially even T.Y. Hilton.
They're likely to address those needs throughout the remainder of free agency and/or in the draft, but as it stands, Pittman is likely to see a target share increase with Ryan behind center.
Both teams stand to benefit from this move in different ways. The Colts recouped a lot of their losses from a failed experiment just one year ago and now moved onto a superior quarterback who will have a positive impact, while the Falcons have essentially tossed in the towel to prepare for a rebuild while stile finding a serviceable option with potential upside at quarterback.