This offseason has been like something we’ve never seen, due to the coronavirus. Free agents haven’t been able to visit teams before signing, players haven’t had the opportunity to grow camaraderie with their new teammates, and the 2020 NFL Draft won’t have prospects attending.
Atlanta Falcons MVP quarterback Matt Ryan recently joined coronavirus relief efforts, donating $100,000 to the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Giving Kitchen. On the football side of things, the team has some new faces that Ryan hasn’t yet had an opportunity to work with yet because of the pandemic. One of those players is running back Todd Gurley, who has some lingering health concerns. Ryan spoke with NBC Sports’ Peter King on Gurley returning to the state of Georgia.
“Very cool. Very cool. I think the people in the state of Georgia are going to love that too,” Ryan said. “Him coming back here, after having played college football here. He’s a special talent, there’s no question. Hopefully we can keep him fresh and healthy, because if he is, he’s one of the best in the business and certainly a good pick up for us.”
It was announced prior to the start of free agency that the Falcons would allow two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper to hit the open market, basically concluding that he would not return to the team. Once free agency began, Hooper signed a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns making him the NFL’s highest-paid tight end. Ryan and Hooper grew as teammates over the years, including last year where Hooper constantly ranked statically as a top-five tight end. He’s gone now, and Ryan was disappointed, to say the least.
“Well obviously, it’s disappointing from a personal standpoint,” Ryan said. “He’s a great teammate, great friend, but you’re also very happy for him because he deserves every penny. He’s worked extremely hard, he’s been extremely productive, he’s going to do a great job in Cleveland.”
The Falcons quickly made a move to potentially replace Hooper, or at least soften the loss, by sending a 2020 second-round pick (No. 55, which was acquired from the New England Patriots in the Mohamed Sanu trade) and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for tight end Hayden Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick.
“I think our trade for Hayden Hurst is going to benefit us,” Ryan said. “My hope is that when things calm down in terms of social distancing and people having to stay away from each other, we’ll have an opportunity to get together and try to get on the same page as fast as possible, because I think he’s a talented player that can really help us. I also think we have to have some of our young guys like Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus – you know we picked up Laquon Treadwell, those are guys that we’re going to have to see how they fit in to the scheme for us to create some of that production that we lost with Austin Hooper.”
Matt Ryan is not only an MVP quarterback, he’s as classy as they come. If you’ve been following his career long enough, his disappointment on losing Austin Hooper this offseason is the closest thing you’ll get to anger on his part. It sounds like he’s looking on the bright side, and as he said, hopefully sooner than later he’ll get to work with Hayden Hurst to grow towards the same trust he had in Hooper.