Nobody was quite certain of Matt Ryan’s future in Atlanta this offseason, including Matt Ryan. When the Falcons picked Kyle Pitts at #4, Ryan and his family were thrilled and relieved, per a new writeup from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. The same thing Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith were telling the media and fans—that all options were on the table, including quarterback—was what they were telling #2 all along. We had plenty of indications that’s what was happening, but its still a little remarkable that Ryan found out about his future with the rest of us.
The anecdote illustrates more than one thing, making it simultaneously clear that the Falcons were serious enough about sniffing around quarterbacks that they didn’t assure their franchise guy that he was absolutely the only option, but also that Ryan is not going to wallow in bitterness thinking about how close he might have come to being replaced. Oh, and also that he’s really pumped about Kyle Pitts, as you’d expect.
In a long section of the MMQB from Breer, Ryan makes it clear that now that he’s excited for the change on the wind. This is a man who has had four different offensive coordinators and two head coaches, but has never been through a full reset from the front office down. Now he’s getting it, with a new regime that made the somewhat unusual move of electing to build around the veteran quarterback already in the building, and a regime that is talking about winning right now despite their sticky cap situation and the looming specter of a Julio Jones trade.
There is a lot of that that is entirely out of Ryan’s control, as the draft night drama indicates. It guarantees very little, but it’s encouraging to read how much time Ryan’s putting into learning the system, getting to know his new head coach, and his seeming early familiarity with Kyle Pitts, something that’s going to serve him well in 2021.
“There’s a natural level of excitement that comes from it being different,” Ryan said. “And I love Dan [Quinn] and I love Thomas [Dimitroff], have so much respect for those guys, and I learned a ton from them. And I think that’s going to serve me better moving forward with a new staff. But there is excitement. It’s a little different. There’s a different energy, a level of wanting to prove yourself, show what you can do, all of that stuff is there.
“I think it makes it exciting, keeps it fresh for a guy in Year 14 and certainly provides plenty of motivation and gives you the energy to get out of bed and get moving.”
The fact that Ryan appears increasingly likely to do so without Julio Jones for the first time since 2011 will make this season all the more jarring for him. He’s dealing with the doubts that come when you’re a 36 year old quarterback who has been a prominent piece of a team that has had three straight losing seasons, and he may do so without a Hall of Fame receiver who has helped define his career. Those are the challenges he can’t overcome and uncertainty he can’t address until the season kicks off, so all that matters if the preparation.
Whether he can turn this new opportunity into something amazing or not will define not just his remaining years in Atlanta, but likely the course of the Falcons franchise for the next several years. That’s something Ryan knows well.
“Of course, you hear everything,” Ryan continued. “It’s become impossible to isolate yourself. It was much easier in 2008, ’09 to do it. It’s really impossible now, so you hear everything. I think just learning how to care less about that stuff, about what’s constantly being talked about, is a skill that I’ve kind of acquired as I’ve gotten older. I try and never search for it when it’s good and never search for it when it’s bad, because either way, it distracts you from focusing on what you need to focus on, just staying in the right mindset.
“My thing was, regardless of who they draft, I’ve got to get myself ready to go play this coming year. And I’m under contract to this organization for the next three years, and they’re going to get the absolute best out of me during that time. It doesn’t matter who they bring in, it’s not going to change that approach. So just stay in that lane, stay in that space, and try and get yourself ready to go.”
Especially if Julio Jones is moved, Ryan and the Falcons are going to have to be awfully good not just at nailing staying in their lanes and spaces, but also shutting out the inevitable wall of noise that follows a move of that magnitude. For those of us who are deeply sick of losing and deeply tired of a rumor-heavy offseason, the good times all that hard work might deliver can’t come soon enough.