Matt Ryan (2) leaves the field after an NFL football...

Matt Ryan (2) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday Oct 24, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Credit: AP/Doug Murray

The Indianapolis Colts may have found another short-term answer at quarterback by trading for Matt Ryan.

How much longer the soon-to-be 37-year-old, four-time Pro Bowler sticks around isn’t clear.

On Monday, Indy acquired the 2016 league MVP from Atlanta for a third-round pick in this year’s draft (No. 82 overall,) a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on condtion of anonymity because the trade had not been announced.

The deal completes Indy’s two-week search for a successor to Carson Wentz, who was traded to the Washington Commanders after just one season with the Colts. For Colts general manager Chris Ballard, it's also the latest attempt to plug a hole created by Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement at age 29 just before the start of the 2018 season.

Ryan will become the sixth quarterback to start in Week 1 for the Colts in six years, adding his name to a list that already is comprised of Scott Tolzien, Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Wentz. He joins a franchise whose vice chairman Bill Polian once said he considered Ryan the most similar player in the league to Peyton Manning.

“You’ve got to be right (at quarterback) and even if you’re not right, you’ve got to keep firing away until you get it right," Ballard said during the NFL's annual scouting combine. "We’ve got to get it right.”

The deal also makes something else clear: The Falcons are entering rebuild mode.

Shortly after the Falcons made a highly publicized but failed bid to acquire Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson last week, it became clear Ryan did not want to return to a team where he had played his entire NFL career and then openly tried to replace him.

Watson supposedly narrowed his potential choices for a trade to New Orleans and Atlanta -- with speculation the Falcons were the favorite since Watson is a Georgia native. But he changed his mind and accepted a $230 million, fully guaranteed deal with the Cleveland Browns who sent three first-round picks to the Texans in the deal.

Ryan is undoubtedly the greatest quarterback in Falcons history, the No. 3 overall pick in 2008 who stepped in to replace Michael Vick. He steadied a franchise rocked by coach Bobby Petrino's departure after 13 games and Vick's imprisonment for running a dogfighting ring.

With Ryan running the offense, the Falcons rebounded from a 4-12 mark in 2007 to make the playoffs in 2008 — the first of five consecutive winning seasons and three postseason trips. Until Ryan's arrival, Atlanta had never even managed back-to-back winning seasons since joining the NFL as an expansion team in 1966.

After several down years for the team, Ryan turned in his greatest season in 2016, throwing for a career-best 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns. Atlanta appeared headed for its first Super Bowl crown when it took a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots by late in the third quarter.

But Tom Brady engineered the greatest comeback in title game history for a 34-28 overtime victory.

Even though the Falcons made one more playoff appearance with Ryan, in 2017, they never seemed to recover from the stunning collapse on the NFL’s biggest stage. Atlanta has endured four straight losing seasons, including a 7-10 mark last year, and is clearly in rebuilding mode.

The trade leaves just one quarterback, Felipe Franks, on Atlanta's roster. The city also just watched the World Series champion Braves cut ties with first baseman Freddie Freeman, Major League Baseball’s 2020 MVP, after a 12-year stint. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

What the Colts are getting in Ryan is a model of consistency — something they've lacked following the retirements of Luck and Rivers and the departures of Tolzien, Brissett and Wentz. Ryan has two seasons left on his current contract and the Colts are well-positioned to absorb the salary cap hits each season.

Ryan posted 10 straight seasons with more than 4,000 passing yards until just missing the mark last year with 3,968. He's thrown for at least 20 touchdowns every year of his career, totaling 367 in his career with 170 interceptions. And he has only missed three starts in his 14-year career.

His 59,735 career passing yards are No. 8 in NFL history, and he will likely pass Dan Marino (61,361) for the No. 7 spot on the list next season.

Falcons sign Mariota

In a related move, the Falcons reunited coach Arthur Smith with former Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has a 29-32 record as an NFL starter. He agreed to a two-year deal with the Falcons on Monday.

Mariota, 28, has been a backup for the Raiders the past two seasons. He was drafted second overall by the Titans in 2015. Smith was the tight ends coach for the Titans from 2015-2018. In Mariota’s final season with the Titans in 2019, Smith was the offensive coordinator. Mariota was 2-4 in six games with Smith in 2019. He went 3-9 as rookie in 2015, 8-7 in 2016, 9-6 in 2017 and 7-6 in 2018.

Mariota has completed 1,128 of 1795 passes (62.8%) for 13,437 yards, 77 touchdowns and 45 interceptions. He has a career passer rating of 89.5.

Winston returns to Saints

Free-agent quarterback Jameis Winston has agreed to return to the Saints, a person familiar with the situation said Monday. Winston, who started seven games for New Orleans in 2021 before a season-ending knee injury, has agreed to a two-year contract. NFL Network first reported Winston’s deal, which is reportedly worth about $28 million. The Saints went 5-2 in the games Winston started in 2021, although he played just two series in his seventh game before tearing knee ligaments when he was tackled.

While the 28-year-old Winston’s rehabilitation from reconstructive surgery appears to be on schedule for him to play next season, his return to New Orleans had been uncertain while the Saints explored options at the all-important position. New Orleans was among the leading suitors for Deshaun Watson before he approved a trade from Houston to Cleveland. 

Around the league

Offensive tackle Trent Brown agreed to a two-year deal to return to the Patriots Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, on Monday confirmed the new contract, which will help the Patriots maintain some stability on the right side of their front five after trading right guard Shaq Mason to Tampa Bay.

Brown, 28, returned to New England this past season after two years with the Raiders, but he missed eight straight games in 2021 after suffering a calf injury in the Patriots’ season opener. He returned for the final nine games (including playoffs) at right tackle and ranked as the Patriots’ second-highest rated lineman. Mason had a rating of 86.3, followed by Brown at 78.3, according to Pro Football Focus . . . The Ravens agreed to a three-year deal Monday with fullback Patrick Ricard. He earned his third Pro Bowl selection last season. Ricard has spent all five of his NFL seasons with Baltimore. 

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