The Atlanta Falcons have extended the contract of QB Matt Ryan five years past its 2019 expiration date, securing he will be the quarterback for the team through the rest of his prime and into his twilight.
He’ll make about $30 million per season, and has $100 million in guaranteed money coming his way. You’re likely to see plenty of takes surface in the days ahead about why Ryan is such a great, underappreciated talent, and they’ll be true. You’ll see people say he’s not worth the money, and they’ll be wrong, but they’ll offer a spirited debate. You’ll see people crack Banana Republic jokes, and they’ll be funny.
But, the conversation we need to go ahead and take a weed wacker to involves what Ryan’s deal means for the team’s future cap situation.
There’s a dirty idea floating around like a fart cloud that states Ryan’s contract will kneecap the team from retaining its core talent in the years to come. That’s just patently not true, and should be quashed like a mean old spider in your bathroom. This surrounds the bizarre hand-wringing about the team retaining talent in the years ahead, and the almighty misunderstanding of the cap system.
I can comfortably tell you that the Falcons aren’t going to lose any of the super-core players that are key to their success because of their cap situation, unless you count Tevin Coleman, which in that case, yeah, that’s a luxury you were only going to ride for so long, man. But that might not even be about money. Reps matter, too!
First, let’s understand something about cap space. Good teams like Atlanta make smart deals (well, uh, at least recently, they’ve made smart deals). They push money down the road, guarantee a bunch up front, and release some of that bloat when it comes time to reevaluate the new cap for the new year. Old contracts fall off all the time, new contracts are greenlit in their stead, and the cap continuously rises as time goes on. It’s an ever-changing number, and an ever-changing system. One quarterback contract can’t ruin that, or hinder it in such a way where it’s prohibitive for further key extensions. There’s just too much money to go around, and too much transition as years pass on.
Second, let’s establish something about pay rates. NFL positions have set markets, and NFL players have agents. When it comes time for a player at a position to get a new deal, the agent is going to either try to reach the set point in the market for an annual deal, or try to raise the ceiling. If you’ve ever wondered why X fine WR2 would get X amount of ridiculous money on the March market, that’s why. It’s a raising scale, and only players who are aging or just aren’t that good don’t reach the set point for pay at their position.
For good quarterbacks especially, reaching that number, and even setting the bar, is seen as a right of passage. For agents, it’s a big stinking deal to get your client the new “marquee” deal of the group, particularly if your client is a quarterback. When Matt Stafford, Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo are setting records with their deals, Matt Ryan’s agent would awfully bad at his job if the couldn’t secure his client more dough than those guys got.
Ryan’s agent is Tom Condon, who is one of the best in the business. Cousins just set the market. Cousins hasn’t won a playoff game. Ryan nearly won a Super Bowl.
Ryan’s deal is what the market commanded, and that’s how it was going to be. He deserves it for what he provides, which is only two seasons of losing football in ten.
Please stop citing Tom Brady’s contract. He took that pay cut well into his late-30s, and only did so because he has so much money coming in from elsewhere. He’s also married to someone who makes more money per year than he does. And, he still made a ton of money (he cost $13 and $14 million in the last two seasons, and will count $22 million this season, and next season).
And, for those who use the “rookie QB” argument, consider that since 2010, only the Seahawks and Ravens have won a Super Bowl with a QB on a rookie deal. The Eagles got to the playoff with Carson Wentz, but won the big game with a veteran in Nick Foles. There’s no telling what Wentz would’ve done against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. And, to be fair to Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson, those wins based more on defense than anything else.
So, now that we have that established, let’s talk about the Falcons’ financial futures.
Sure, the team has a lot of deals to broker in the years to come: Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley and Ricardo Allen are the next four up to bat, and they’re more than likely going to get deals to pay them handsomely for what they provide to the team.
Jake’s and Rico’s could come in the summer or during the season. Jarrett’s could as well. Beasley’s could wait until the 2019 season when his fifth-year option kicks in. Some argue the team will try and replace Allen, but even then, that’s not because of Ryan’s deal. It’ll be because they invest a first rounder at the spot in the years ahead to upgrade the talent, or just find someone who is as good as Rico, and costs less per average.
Guys like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Takk McKinley, De’Vondre Campbell and Austin Hooper won’t need new deals for quite some time, as their rookie contracts have enough gas on them to last for a bit, particularly Neal and McKinley.
The Falcons also have veterans like Robert Alford and Mohamed Sanu who have big chunks of their deals about to set in. The team just drafted Alford and Sanu’s eventual successors, and those deals might not get renewed when they expire, or, in a distant scenario, could be cut before their completion. So, their replacements will have time to gel with the league before assuming greater responsibilities.
There are also deals like Brooks Reed’s, Derrick Shelby’s and Andy Levitre’s that will expire when they are up, and that money will be freed up to go elsewhere. Those guys aren’t locks to return, and the team could opt to replace their impacts with rookie deals.
This is all to say there are only two players on the team right now who might actually walk when their deals are over besides Allen: Coleman and Campbell. Coleman’s decision might not even be financial; he may just want to be the lead back elsewhere and get the lion’s share of reps. Campbell is under contract until 2020, and even then, could still stick around.
So, right now, there is not one single Atlanta Falcon whose contract is guaranteed to be thrown to the side just because Ryan got an extension and counts $30 million on the cap. There is going to be enough money to go around to make sure everyone that needs to be there is paid. This is a nonissue.
So, uh, I think that’s it.
The Falcons extending Ryan on an ever-growing cap system and in an ever-changing lineup on contracts means nothing to retaining any of their key talent down the road. It might mean they don’t come into each March with $50 million in cap space to play with, but traditionally, the teams that do typically stink.
So, just be glad the Falcons have extended Ryan, and quit freaking out about the future cap situation. The Falcons will find a way to get everyone fed, and still win games. Heck, maybe they’ll even find a way to finish a Super Bowl before it’s all said and done. But, paying the QB what he’s worth and what the market demands won’t hinder that to any unreasonable degree.
Stop trying to argue otherwise.