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Could a Matt Ryan Contract Detail Force His Retirement?

Last Updated: December 26, 2022
After suffering a shoulder injury and getting benched in the midst of a struggle-filled season, has Matt Ryan actually played his last NFL game? Let’s explain.

Matt Ryan‘s storied NFL career is suddenly in limbo. The terms of his contract with the Indianapolis Colts be the reason why.

Ryan had thrown for nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in his first season with Indy before suffering a Grade 2 shoulder separation in Week 7. He’s already out for this Sunday’s game against the Commanders after being officially benched Monday in favor of Sam Ehlinger — and as things stand, he may have just entered a sort of quasi-retirement.

Let us explain.

The shoulder injury, depending on its severity, could end up costing the Colts a boatload of guaranteed. As a result, Ryan may have already played his last NFL snap due to the way his contract is structured. An abnormality, to say the least.

We’ll do the best we can to break down the Matt Ryan contract madness:

  • Ryan’s contract, which began in 2018 when he was a member of the Falcons, pays him $12 million in base salary in 2023 — this money is fully guaranteed.
  • He has $7.2 million in additional 2023 salary that’s guaranteed in case of injury.
  • Ryan has a roster bonus of $10 million that’s likewise guaranteed in case of injury.

That would add up to $17 million the Colts would owe Ryan — plus next season’s $12 million base — if he does not pass a physical by the middle of March. So, that makes roughly $29 million the team would owe Ryan this season and next if he’s injured.

Taken along with a Grade 2 shoulder separation and a benching due to unsatisfactory play, we could be looking at more than enough to scare off the Colts from willingly committing any more money to the underachieving 37-year-old.

All this could scare away every other prospective NFL team, too, leaving the former MVP with zero good options.

What’s Next for Matt Ryan and the Colts?

It may be that Ryan is still actually the best option at QB for a Colts team that’s still in the playoff race given his career credentials that include an MVP award and an NFC title. Though he still has a path back to the huddle if Ehlinger gets injured or proves to be otherwise disastrous — the other option in Indy would be Nick Foles — he has to embrace a backup role here and now in any event.

“As a player, you just always anticipate, you’re getting ready, you’re going to go,” Ryan said to media members Wednesday. “You have to move forward and you’ve got to help out where you can.”

Indy’s Other Options

If his injury isn’t of the truly long-term variety, Indianapolis can save $18-29 million by releasing or trading Ryan before the 2023 campaign.

  • If the Colts release Ryan after the 2022 season, he’ll effectively cost $18 million against the salary cap in 2023, the last year of his contract. They would be on the hook for that $18 million as dead cap money, but it would also save $17.2 million under the salary cap.
  • If the Colts trade Ryan, they’d be hit with $6 million in dead money while saving $29.2 million against the cap.

The most likely scenario is that they keep him on the sidelines for the remainder of the year, and then release him once the 2022 season is over. Plainly and simply, he isn’t playing nearly well enough for any NFL team to take on $29 million in salary.

This is all a mess the Colts created little by little as an organization. Now, they’re dealing with repercussions that run the risk of stretching beyond the current season — not only do they have an inexperienced starting QB, but the current trajectory of the team runs the risk of ruining what might be an otherwise positive rapport with this offseason’s free agent crop.

Who is Sam Ehlinger?

Ehlinger has taken three snaps as a QB and has never started a game in his life as of this writing. The Texas Longhorn was taken in the sixth round of the 2021 Draft after an illustrious collegiate career.

  • In 2018, he broke the record for most rushing TDs in school history (16).
  • He broke the Big 12 record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (308).
  • He won 27 games as starting QB, the fourth-most in school history.
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Colts QB Carousel

Ehlinger getting the nod over Ryan continues a quarterback carousel that hasn’t stopped since Andrew Luck retired in 2019. Ehlinger is the sixth QB to start a game for Indianapolis since then.

Here’s a look:

Anyone Else?

Aside from Ehlinger, they have a veteran on their roster in Foles, who famously won Super Bowl MVP with the Eagles back in 2017, a season he began on the bench behind Carson Wentz. He’s 29-27 in 56 career starts with 82 touchdowns and 43 interceptions over the course of his career.

His last start came in Week 16 during the 2021 season when he was a backup with the Bears, throwing for 250 yards and a touchdown in a 25-24 victory over the Seahawks. Perhaps the most mind-boggling component in all of this is that the Colts signed Foles for a situation exactly like the one they’re in now… and they still aren’t starting him.

At least not yet.

It’s safe to say that the Colts just haven’t had much luck (pun intended!) at the quarterback position in several years, even if a nice piece of it is their own fault. They’ve committed $145 million to 12 different quarterbacks since Andrew Luck’s retirement, and as odd as it all may sound, they’re 30-25-1 during that span.

How? We don’t have the answers.

But it appears they don’t, either. And as a result, a future Hall of Famer in Matt Ryan could find himself on the outside of the game of football looking in.

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About The Author
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. Puccio has 10 years of experience in journalism and content creation, previously working for SB Nation, The Associated Press, New York Daily News, SNY, and Front Office Sports. In 2016, he received New York University's CCTOP scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in Communications from St. John's University. He can be spotted a mile away thanks to his plaid suits and thick New York accent. Don't believe us? Check his Twitter @APooch.