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The Colts Have A Mess At Quarterback, And So Does The NFL

Matt Ryan with his helmet pushed back on his head before leading his Colts to a loss against the damn Jacksonville Jaguars.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Before Zappemania captivated the planet for a robust 15 minutes on Monday night, the day's biggest news in the NFL was the Colts benching starter Matt Ryan. This was seemingly due to an injury at first, but the team later openly stated that second-year man Sam Ehlinger would take Ryan’s job for the rest of the season. This was not a tragic development if you’ve ever had the privilege of watching Matt Ryan play football, and particularly if you're familiar with the 2022 vintage of Matt Ryan. This Matt Ryan plays like he’s had the flu for nine years. He looks skeletal. He throws as many interceptions as he does touchdowns. He’s already fumbled an astounding 11 times. PFF has him rated as the 32nd-best QB in the league. Also he remains boring as fuck. Matt Ryan is, in every way, the anti-Zappe.

The odd thing here is that the Colts have known it for quite a while now. From Zak Keefer at The Athletic:

Privately, this is a move they’d been mulling for weeks, unconvinced they were getting the consistency at quarterback they needed, worried the dam would eventually break on a season that’s felt wobbly from the start.

Keep in mind that this season is only seven weeks old. It says a lot when you trade away a third-round draft pick for Matt Ryan, give him a relatively onerous two-year extension that you can’t get out of without absorbing a great deal of cap pain, bench him after a month and a half in favor of a dude who’s never thrown a pass in his professional career and whose ceiling is Adorable Journeyman, and then profess that this was your plan all along. This was not the Colts' plan. Just like the past three years, the Colts’ plan has been to add a plug-and-play QB to a stacked roster so that they can immediately contend for a title. While they’ve indulged this fantasy, the roster they built to accommodate that procession of high-profile washouts has itself eroded. The plan failed. Again. Quickly. The Colts don’t know what they’re doing. The Colts are fucked.

They’re hardly an anomaly in that respect. Nearly every major quarterback move that NFL teams made during the last offseason has backfired horrendously. The Broncos traded for Russell Wilson, who ranks only two spots above Ryan in PFF’s rankings and, when healthy enough to do so, currently pilots one of the worst offenses I’ve ever seen. The Packers gave a flaky Aaron Rodgers a guaranteed $102 million this offseason and not only has Rodgers underperformed, he’s also served as the world’s largest morale vacuum in doing so. The Bucs kicked their Super Bowl-winning head coach upstairs to entice Tom Brady out of retirement, only for Brady to turn into a sad divorced guy who texts Ron DeSantis on the reg. The Commanders traded for Carson Wentz, which … lol OK we all knew that guy would suck shit. And has he ever! NICE HAT, DIPSHIT.

None of these teams have a viable long-term backup plan at quarterback, but what’s even stranger is that the NFL itself seems not to have a backup plan for its marquee generation of passers aging out of existence. That, or it just cooked up a lousy one. The league’s 32 teams had many years to steel itself for the departures of Brady, Rodgers, Wilson, Ryan, and already-retired stars like Drew Brees and that one Steelers fuckhead. So where the fuck are the new guys? They didn’t ALL get suspended for abusing their massage therapists, you know. How the hell did this happen?

You and I both know that quarterbacks are all that matter right now in the NFL, and that both the rules and the rookie salary cap have made it easier than ever for teams to groom superstars at the position. But I can count, on a single hand, which teams are comfortable at QB for the coming years. Those teams are Buffalo, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Everyone else is either as lost as the Colts are, or will be momentarily. Mac Jones was the only rookie QB from the 2021 class to pan out, and he got benched last night. And to great fanfare, no less. Kenny Pickett was the only first-round QB this past offseason, and all he does is throw long balls that get picked off with ease. Lamar Jackson still doesn’t have a contract extension. Tua Tagovailoa may still not have a fully operational frontal lobe. Justin Herbert is the only Charger who hasn’t suffered a torn QCL but is due any day now. Kyler Murray hates his coach. Dak Prescott can’t stay healthy. And multiple teams—New Orleans, Tennessee, Carolina, Detroit, the Giants, Minnesota—are riding with veteran quarterbacks they have no intention of keeping around much longer. Maybe this is all bad luck, or maybe it’s bad planning. What’s certain is that it’s making for shittier football. If you want to know why edge rushers have been routinely whistled merely for sending a nasty text to opposing quarterbacks, this is why. A desperate league requires desperate measures.

To say this is a crisis would be overly dramatic, but it’s an odd season in the NFL when a 32-year-old Geno Smith is not only one of the best quarterbacks in the sport, but is so by a healthy margin. So it’s no wonder that everyone went batshit for Bailey Zappe a few hours ago. Bailey Zappe is the cracker, and you are the starving man wandering out of the desert. The transition from Matt Ryan’s generation of quarterbacks (giving Ryan possessory credit for that generation is bullshit, but for the sake of this story’s peg it’ll have to do) to a new one was never guaranteed to be smooth, but the NFL did everything it could to make sure that ebb wouldn’t get this low and it still very much is. Subjecting Colts fans—and, more importantly, me—to this much latter day Matt Ryan is cruel. A flaggable offense. We all deserve better. Mary Jo White must investigate.

There is some brightness on the horizon. Quarterback play, like everything else, is cyclical. And with the arrivals of CJ Stroud and Bryce Young and Will Levis all in the offing, I’m not convinced this’ll be a lasting QB drought. But Ryan’s benching yesterday is as good a signal as any that you and I are living through some real 1992 shit at the moment. And if I know one thing, it’s this: Even if the situation improves anytime soon, the Colts sure as fuck won’t.

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