Matt Ryan is, whether you care to admit it or not, one of the better quarterbacks working in the NFL today. He has been throughout his career, as well, which is why his upcoming contract extension with the Falcons is likely to boast some eye-popping numbers on the surface.
D. Orlando Ledbetter teed up what looks like a bit more than an educated guess on Ryan’s next deal, and it would at least briefly put him among the three highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. Considering Kirk Cousins of all people currently looks like he’ll boast that distinction—with fully guaranteed money—it’s not surprising that Ryan’s numbers look huge at first glance.
The Falcons are hoping to sign quarterback Matt Ryan to a contract extension that will likely be six years and in the $180-190 million range.
“Matt Ryan’s situation has some role in dictating where we are and how creative we are and how we can re-sign some of our other players in free agency,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Anytime that you’re signing a top-tier quarterback, you’re going to be face with complications. That’s just the way it is.”
Let’s start with a customary disclaimer: The Falcons are not going to ship Ryan out, let him walk, or play extrem hardball with him. Ryan is not going to take a “team-friendly” deal that sees him clock in well under market value. This is a deal that barring a complete meltdown on either side is going to get done, and it’s really just a question of when, how and structure.
Ryan’s last deal ensured he’d have a cap hit of $23.75 million in 2017 and 2018, but it’s worth remembering that his hits in the first three years of the deal (2013, 2014, and 2015) were a tiny $9.6 million, and then a manageable $17.5 million and $19.5 million. That deal total $103.75 million, or just over $20 million per year, but the quarterback landscape and cap picture has changed so much in the last five seasons that $30 million no longer carries a ton of sticker shock. The six years would appear to be a way for the Falcons to ensure Ryan spends his entire career in Atlanta, assuming he’s healthy and effective enough to do so.
A key for any Ryan deal is smaller cap hits up front, a structure that helps defray costs over time, and less guaranteed money at the back end of the deal, when Ryan will be 37, 38, or even 39 years old, with a completely likely decline in performance in the cards. The Falcons will need to carve out some cap space to make the kind of savvy moves they’ve customarily been able to pull off in the spring and summer, and they’ll definitely need that space next year when they have to start extending some of their best young players.
Ideally, then, this deal would give Ryan plenty of money over its life and look shiny and glittery on its face, but would also give the Falcons an escape hatch over the last couple of years if he can no longer perform at his customary Matty Ice level. The Falcons have shown an ability to smartly structure contracts in the past, and they’ll have to do an even better job of it with extensions like Ryan’s if they’re going to remain relevant in the coming seasons.
Let’s hope this deal gets done sooner than later so the Falcons can be players in free agency, if they wish to be.