In a stunning move, the Indianapolis Colts have announced that Sam Ehlinger will start Week 8 against the Washington Commanders. Starting quarterback Matt Ryan has a grade two sprained shoulder, but Frank Reich has stated that regardless of the injury, the plan is now for Sam Ehlinger to start for the rest of the season.
Mike Chappell was the first to report the news:
Per source, Colts benching Matt Ryan, turning to Sam Ehlinger. Sam makes 1st career start Sunday vs. Washington. Nick Foles will be No. 2.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) October 24, 2022
Then the team confirmed it:
Per Frank Reich, QB Sam Ehlinger will start in #WASvsIND. pic.twitter.com/Y3hX6C8CqQ— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 24, 2022
Zak Keefer has been on top of the reporting on this one:
To clarify: the Colts are making the switch at QB regardless of Matt Ryan's injury. The plan, as of now, is for Sam Ehlinger to be the starting quarterback the rest of the season.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) October 24, 2022
Frank Reich on Sam Ehlinger: "He'll be ready. He'll be ready. Is he gonna make mistakes? Of course he's gonna make mistakes. But he's gonna make plays for our offense."— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) October 24, 2022
Frank Reich openly admitting what we've been writing for weeks — that the Colts didn't hold up their end of the bargain with Matt Ryan, re: a great o-line and great run game. "We didn't deliver," Reich said.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) October 24, 2022
This is the biggest story for the Colts at the quarterback position since Andrew Luck’s early retirement in 2019. Since that time, Frank Reich and Chris Ballard have attempted to place Band-Aids at the position. Mostly, those Band-Aids have come in the form of veteran quarterbacks either in the twilight of their careers or coming off of one of the worst seasons of their careers. Those reclamation efforts have failed.
It’s hard to blame Ballard for attempting to rebuild using this philosophy. His abilities as a talent evaluator in the draft and free agency have placed the Colts into the unenviable no man’s land of NFL QB purgatory. The roster is too good to get a high draft pick, which is often necessary to get a young promising QB, and too bad to consistently make the playoffs. Who wants to be responsible for wasting the prime years of All-Pro talents like Quenton Nelson, Shaquille Leonard, Kenny Moore, and Jonathan Taylor?
Without a quarterback, it is difficult to be a true contender. The Band-Aids aren’t working. Perhaps the youth movement, and all of the baggage that comes with it, are the franchise’s best option at this point.
Colts fans should not expect Indianapolis to be a playoff team in 2022. Fans might be better off seeing the next two or three seasons as a new rebuilding period. Will expensive veterans be moved to acquire draft picks and give those players a shot with a contender? Maybe. It hasn't been the standard practice for Chris Ballard to let his homegrown players go, but it is clear that Jim Irsay has decided it is time to get more involved in the direction his franchise is taking.
It’s important to note that the quarterback position is evolving quickly. The day of the pocket passer is starting to slip away. Sure, most of the best quarterbacks in the league have to be comfortable passing from the pocket, but almost all of the new wave of players at the position are athletic freaks, too — meaning they can escape a collapsing pocket and make throws on the run. The age of Manning, Brady, Brees, and Rodgers is ending. Matt Ryan is just like those players, if not quite as decorated.
What does Sam Ehlinger bring to the table? He is mobile and shifty. He can escape a collapsing pocket and pick up yards with his legs. He has an incredible leadership aura that has transferred from high school to college and now to the NFL. It isn’t hard to expect his teammates to like playing alongside him and see his toughness and leadership as something to rally around.
Will it work? Time will tell. Again, it’s unlikely that this is the beginning of a long, decorated career for Ehlinger as a starter. It’s possible, and it would be convenient, but it should flip Colts’ fan expectations.
It is more likely the Colts will pick higher in 2023 than it has since 2018 - when Ballard flipped the fourth pick into multiple picks and selected Nelson with pick six and also turned the rest of the picks into Braden Smith, Kemoko Turay, Jordan Wilkins, and Rock Ya-Sin (who was just traded for Yannick Ngakoue). Is this the year the Colts work up the draft to grab a new signal-caller?