One of the biggest questions of the offseason concerned whether the Falcons would restructure Matt Ryan’s deal. Any major changes to his contract would spread his cap hits over subsequent seasons, increasing the chances that Atlanta was planning to build around for him at least the next 2-3 years.
We still don’t know the team’s plans, but we do know that they were willing to restructure Ryan’s deal in a major way to get under the cap. Per Zach Klein at WSB-TV, the Falcons will realize about $14 million in 2021 savings with a change to Ryan’s deal that spreads $21 million in money out over the next three seasons. That’s a max restructure, and one that means the Falcons are likely to build this roster around Ryan in the near term.
Per NFL League source the Falcons have restructured Matt Ryan's contract..— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) March 16, 2021
Was due $23 million... took 21-million and made it guaranteed bonus that spreads out over the next 3-years-
Cap # is now 26.9 million - It was $40.9 million pic.twitter.com/u4NS4XwABY
That move immediately gets Atlanta under the cap, though still not by much. The Falcons had to do so by Wednesday at 4 p.m., and there may be more moves in the offing to give them a little room to breathe and sign free agents. They’ll at least be able to attack a couple of priorities with affordable signings if they’d like to, and we could start hearing about those signings in the very near future. It was always going to be necessary to make changes to existing contracts to get here, but it’s still surprising to me that it was Ryan’s deal and to this extent.
The change means that Ryan goes from being difficult to move to nigh-impossible to move again in 2022, and it makes it more difficult (though not impossible) to do so in 2023, the final year of his current deal. The question of whether Atlanta would attempt this kind of restructure was a question with these exact implications, because presumably if the Falcons were going to draft a quarterback in the top 5, they’d want to have the flexibility to move on from Ryan and install that player as soon as 2022. That’s an option that’s still on the table, obviously, but I’d say it’s fair to argue that this decreases the chances of that by quite a bit. We’ll see if the Falcons are willing to throw a bit of a curveball and still draft the future at the position under the assumption that if Carson Wentz and Matthew Stafford could be moved, so could Ryan if it comes to that.
Atlanta’s short-term push has to be build a winning roster around Ryan, given this contract, and they’ll have to do so with limited free agent dollars in 2021 and (thankfully) nine draft selections, including the #4 pick. Terry Fontenot and this front office are going to earn their money doing so, and Arthur Smith and company are going to earn theirs reviving an offense that was too often moribund and feckless in the red zone under Dirk Koetter. They’ll do so knowing that Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Hayden Hurst plus 3/5ths of a quality offensive line are a solid start for a team that is going to trust its coaching to make up for deficits.
The good news here is that Ryan’s play has not appreciably slipped in recent years, especially not in ways that couldn’t easily be pinned on the offense he was operating within. His deep ball isn’t going to get any prettier, but he’s still an effective quarterback with weapons galore who should thrive in Smith’s offense, which was surely a major factor in the team’s ultimate decision to restructure his deal and ride with him. All options were on the table for a new regime, but it speaks volumes that Fontenot and Smith were willing to stake so much on Ryan being at least an above average quarterback for the next 2-3 seasons. He’s not a quarterback who is overly dependent on foot speed or arm strength, and thus he should continue to age gracefully in the years to come, especially if his legendary durability continues. Getting a strong, capable backup quarterback now becomes a major focus, however.
We’ll now wait and see how the Falcons intend to build a contender around Ryan in 2021, but no one’s going to complain so long as they manage to do so and Ryan can be a major part of a return to winning ways. It’s a rare player who gets the chance at a storybook ending with the franchise that drafted him, and we’ll hope that Matt Ryan and the Falcons can make it happen in Atlanta.