After a week of talking heads weighing in on the Indianapolis Colts Jeff Saturday hire, crushing owner Jim Irsay and the inexperienced interim coach himself, Saturday, Irsay, and the team got the last laugh as they beat the Las Vegas Raiders 25-20. To pull off his inaugural win, Saturday made the bold decision to start veteran quarterback Matt Ryan over Sam Ehlinger. The gamble paid off in the Colts Week 10 game, but the decision could ultimately cost the organization millions of dollars.
Jeff Saturday playing Matt Ryan is a $17 million gamble for the Colts
Two weeks before Jim Irsay fired coach Frank Reich, the coach (or the organization) made the decision to sit veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, seemingly for the rest of the season, and play second-year signal-caller Sam Ehlirnger.
That decision led to two more losses and ultimately cost Reich his job.
In a 17-16 loss to the Washington Commanders and a 26-3 loss to the New England Patriots, Ehilnger was 32-of-52 (61.5%) for 304 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. He also ran 11 times for 54 yards, took 11 sacks, and lost one fumble.
That’s not good enough to be a starting NFL quarterback, but playing Ehlinger did help protect the Colts’ future. The 37-year-old Ryan obviously isn’t the Colts QB of the future, and he makes a lot of money.
This season, he’s on the books for $24.7 million, and next season, his cap hit jumps to $35.2 million, per Spotrac. However, his dead cap number is only $18 million next season, meaning that if the Colts cut him in the offseason, they will save roughly $17 million.
However, that $17 million in savings is the amount guaranteed for injury. So, if Ryan goes down with an injury that puts him out into the offseason, $7.2 million of his 2023 salary becomes guaranteed as does a $10 million roster bonus.
That’s a huge number that will put a major damper on the franchise’s 2023 rebuilding plan.
Since 2018, the last year Andrew Luck played for the Colts, the team has paid 12 different QBs (Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Brad Kaaya, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly, Philip Rivers, Jacob Eason, Carson Wentz, Brett Hundley, Nick Foles, Ryan, and Ehilnger) a total of $145 million.
And for that large figure, the Colts have a 41-33-1 record, two playoff appearances, and one playoff win to show for it.
All that money adds up to one conclusion. It’s time for the franchise to find a young QB of the future and start building around him.
However, that doesn’t seem to be interim head coach Jeff Saturday’s concern. After just a few days at the helm, Saturday saw enough of Ehlinger to decide that the only way he was going to win games was with Ryan. He decided to start the veteran in the Colts Week 10 matchup with the struggling Raiders, and the gamble paid off big time in the short term.
Ryan was an efficient 22-of-28 for 222 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in the Colts Week 10 win. He also miraculously contributed to the victory on the ground. After starting 229 games in the NFL and never rushing for more than 55 yards in a season or even 39 yards in a single game, Ryan has a 39-yard rush vs. the Raiders. He also scored the opening touchdown on a one-yard QB sneak.
Matt Ryan 39-yard run? Matt Ryan 39-yard run! @M_Ryan02
— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2022
This was great for Saturday and the Colts to get the win on Sunday. But it is incredibly risky for the long-term future of the franchise.
Reich initially benched Ryan — at least in part — because of a shoulder injury. It doesn’t seem like the issue was as bad as the team made it out to be, but the injury was there regardless.
Now, Saturday is putting Matt Ryan out there behind an offensive line that has allowed a league-leading 36 sacks this season and allowing him to run when he’s under pressure and in short-yardage situations. This is a recipe that allowed the Colts to beat the Raiders, but it is also something that could completely derail the next Colts season.
What we learned on Sunday is that Saturday will do whatever it takes to win games this season. That’s good for Saturday, as he starts putting together his NFL coaching resume in order to keep his current job or get a new one in the future. It’s also fun for Colts fans now, who got something to cheer about for the first time in a while.
And if Jeff Saturday’s Matt Ryan gamble continues to pay off in wins while the QB stays healthy, the interim coach will look like a genius. However, with seven games to play, there are still a lot of chances for this to backfire and set the organization even further back than it already is.