You would be hard-pressed to find a more universally beloved Falcon than Matt Bryant, as there are somehow people out there who think Julio Jones is overrated. Money, as he is popularly known, has a real case as the greatest kicker in the long history of the Falcons franchise, and he has been nails in pressure-packed situations for virtually his entire run in Atlanta.
He is also a free agent. With the state of kicking jobs in the NFL right now, it is generally unwise to let a quality player go, and the widespread expectation is that the Falcons will find a way to retain Bryant. That takes a lot of suspense out of this, sure, but we do want to run down the case for and against him as we’ve done with every other player. As you’d expect, this one’s pretty lopsided.
Matt Bryant is preposterously great. At the tender age of 42 and with 16 NFL seasons under his belt, Bryant hit 34 of his 39 field goal attempts for an 87.2% conversion rate, the 11th-best mark in the NFL in 2017. He was 9 of 10 from 40-plus yards and 8 of 9 from 50-plus yards, meaning most of his misses came in relative chip shot territory, which in turn means he hasn’t lost the power in his leg. He also went 5 for 5 on field goals in the postseason.
What I’m trying to say is that Bryant has shown no real signs of slowing down, despite advancing to an age where only a small handful of kickers have continued to play at a high level. He’s not rattled by pressure, he still has incredible range, and he rarely misses at any distance. He’ll be with the Falcons a decade if he returns in 2018, and his field goal percentage is almost as good as it was back in 2010.
Reliability at kicker is so important and so hard to come by, too. The Seahawks learned the peril of getting cute with Steve Hauschka, one of the league’s premier legs, when they signed Blair Walsh and watched him miss frequently for a struggling offense. When the Falcons move on from Bryant, they’ll have to either pay for another steady veteran and hope they don’t catch his decline phase, or try to secure a rookie when finding quality rookie kickers has proven to be a genuine issue for most teams in the NFL. Bryant’s consistent excellence is worth its weight in gold.
Cost and age are the only two issues with re-signing Bryant. At 43 this upcoming season, he’ll be one of just 10 kickers in NFL history to still hold a job at that age. Incredibly, three are active today, with Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson still chugging along as well.
Even with players lasting longer than ever—the Patriots and Saints will both roll out 40-year-old quarterbacks in 2018—we do know that the wheels could come off at any moment for Bryant, or Dawson, or Vinatieri, or Brady, or Brees. The older you get, in most instances, the greater the possibility of injury or decline becomes, and it would be truly astonishing if Bryant did not eventually hit a wall. If he does, the Falcons will be scrambling to find someone semi-reliable (Nick Rose?) to take over the job midseason, which is always a cause for concern. We simply do not know when or if decline will come for Bryant, but it’s likelier with each passing year.
Bryant is also likely to be one of the league’s fifteen or so costliest kickers. That’s well-deserved, given his production, and won’t exactly break the bank for the Falcons. It is a small issue in a year where the Falcons don’t figure to have a ton of cap space to work with, however.
The Verdict: Yes
Maybe this will be the year Money’s value crashes, but there has been nothing in his recent performance to indicate it will be. Given the scarcity of quality kickers, Bryant’s importance to the franchise, and his still-excellent skill level, the Falcons more or less have to re-sign him. I expect this to be one of the slam dunks of this free agency period, and we’ll hope Bryant can be Bryant for at least one more season.