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Colts release QB Matt Ryan

For the seventh consecutive year, the Colts will start the season with a new quarterback.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are making way for a new quarterback. 

The team officially announced Wednesday they let 37-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan go. The news comes after multiple sources broke the news Tuesday that the team planned to release Ryan, including NFL insider Zach Klein and an Associate Press source.

It's a cost-cutting move that saves Indianapolis about $17.2 million in salary cap charges next season and allows it to open free agency with about $30 million of cap space.

Still, as part of the Colts' trade to acquire Ryan, his agent negotiated a new contract that included a $12 million guarantee in 2023 that was not in his previous contract, NFL insider Ian Rapoport explained. 

That means Ryan "remains entitled to the $12 million regardless of what he decides to do with his season," Rapoport said in a tweet.

The Colts hold the No. 4 overall pick in next month's NFL draft, and most analysts expect the team to select one of four quarterbacks — 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year C.J. Stroud, strong-armed Will Levis or Anthony Richardson. 

Some even believe Indianapolis may trade up for one of the top three, though the reported deal between the Chicago Bears and quarterback-needy Carolina Panthers for the top overall pick could complicate Indy's plans. The Houston Texans, also a quarterback-needy team, pick second, while the Arizona Cardinals are at No. 3 but already have Kyler Murray signed to a long-term deal.

The likelihood of adding a young, franchise quarterback to provide stability for a team that has used a different opening-day starter for six straight seasons made Ryan and his $35.2 cap hit expendable.

The Colts also traded five-time Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday in exchange for a fifth-round pick in this year's draft -- clearing about $10 million in cap space as they signal their plans to rebuild the team.

What's next for Ryan, the league's 2016 MVP, remains unclear.

In January, Ryan said he didn't believe he would retire and that he could still play at a high level.

“I still love playing, and I think obviously, not committed to anything, here, wherever, I have to see how it shakes out,” Ryan said in January. "But I still love playing and still feel like honestly, I still feel like there’s a lot of good football in my body. We’ll see what happens.”

His film and stats revealed a different story.

Ryan struggled under two head coaches, two offensive coordinators and two play-callers while working behind an offensive line that allowed the NFL's second-highest sacks total (60). Watching 2021 NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor struggle with injuries and having just one consistent receiving option — Michael Pittman Jr. — didn't help, either.

The result: Ryan finished with the league's second-most giveaways (18) despite playing five fewer games than Josh Allen (19), was sacked 40 times and benched twice in his only season in Indy.

With Ryan set to turn 38 just six days after new Colts coach Shane Steichen celebrates his 38th birthday in May and coming off the worst season of his career made it almost impossible to keep the four-time Pro Bowler, especially without taking a huge pay cut.

Ryan played his first 14 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, where he became the franchise's career leader in all of the major passing categories after being selected No. 3 overall out of Boston College. He won the NFL's 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Award, and his high school in Philadelphia was featured on ABC's hit comedy “The Goldbergs.”

Ryan ranks fifth all-time in completions (5,551), seventh in yards passing (62,792) and ninth in touchdown passes (381).

Indy also must decide what to do with 34-year-old backup Nick Foles, the Super Bowl 52 MVP who made two starts before an injury ended his season. Foles joined Indy in part because he wanted to reunite with coach Frank Reich, who was fired in October and has since been hired by Carolina.

Foles is under contract for $3.6 million in the 2023 season and could serve as a mentor to whomever the Colts draft. But releasing him would save an additional $2.5 million and would likely put Indy in the market for a low-priced backup or a bridge starter until a rookie is ready to play.

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