Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot were undoubtedly excited when the Falcons offered them the head coach and general manager jobs. I imagine it was a moment they envisioned in their minds countless times. But they both took on their respective positions knowing that big challenges lie ahead: cap inflexibility, the fan base’s emotional investment in certain veterans, and a roster with some glaring holes. And let’s not forget about the fact that this fan base has lived through some of the most embarrassing moments in professional sports history—we’re damaged goods.
It is now well-established that Matt Ryan isn’t going anywhere in 2021. If you don’t think that statement is factual for some reason, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Kevin Knight’s piece breaking down why Ryan will be a Falcon next season. But, like it or not, all bets are off in 2022 and beyond.
We may not know 2021’s final salary cap number for a while, but it’s likely to decrease by about $15 million. That’s going to put a lot of teams in a precarious financial position, and the Falcons are no exception. In fact, they are already eyeing hard moves to right their ship financially.
Terry Fontenot was asked how he will be able to improve the roster when there aren't a ton of guys under contract and a tight cap: "Everything is in consideration. We're going to have to make some hard decisions on this roster."— Jason Butt (@JasonHButt) February 23, 2021
The Falcons may not move on from Ryan in the immediate future, but Fontenot is clearly willing to set aside emotion and do what he thinks is best for the fiscal well-being of the franchise. That inclination isn’t wrong on its face, but it does have ripple effects. And Fontenot clearly knows what the past 10+ years of Falcons football has looked like. Matthew Thomas Ryan has put in years of hard work, sweat, and tears for the Falcons, and he’s been compensated well for his time and effort, at least financially. But this league is all about what you’ve done lately, and over the past 12 months, Ryan has gone from franchise cornerstone to a man with an uncertain future.
This kind of thing happens in professional sports. It just does. That won’t make it any easier to stomach, but it should help put the situation in context. Every professional athlete can and will eventually be replaced. Ryan isn’t immune. It may just be the Falcons turn to stare down the reoccurring nightmare.
Whether the Falcons set in motion Ryan’s departure during the draft or delay the inevitable (i.e., draft the non-QB BPA), the process of moving on won’t ever be easy. And let’s be honest, it’s going to be even harder if the Falcons aren’t winning football games in his absence.
If you’re asking for my personal opinion, I’ll gladly give it to you: Ryan still has a few good years in the tank. But I can see the logic in planning for his departure, whenever that comes. My central point is that moving on from the Ryan era can’t be easy. It isn’t supposed to be easy. It wasn’t easy to move on from the Michael Vick era either, although that transpired under more dire circumstances. We’d all be better off if we just owned the fact that it’s going to be unpleasant for Ryan, for the team, and for a healthy chunk of the fanbase.