The Falcons have said again and again that they’re trying to focus on the future while remaining competitive now. Given that, it was an open question how they’d address Matt Ryan’s contract, given that he was carrying nearly a $48.7 million cap charge in 2022 that figured to be significantly less in 2023. Would they stand pat and eat the charge, extend Ryan, or restructure him?
Per Brad Spielberger at Pro Football Focus, the Falcons chose the last option, a report confirmed this evening by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The expectation is that the team will free up $12 million, giving them some breathing room against the cap this year.
The Atlanta Falcons are restructuring QB Matt Ryan’s contract to clear cap space in 2022— Brad Spielberger, Esq. (@PFF_Brad) March 11, 2022
Ryan is owed a $7.5M roster bonus on March 19th and has a $16.25M salary for 2022.
His $48.662M cap hit for 2022 was the biggest in the NFL headed into the season, Atlanta gets some room
The #Falcons have restructured the contract of QB Matt Ryan, source said, created $12M worth of cap room ahead of the new league year. Ryan, due $23.75M in cash in 2022, previously had a cap number of $48.66M.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 12, 2022
UPDATE, MARCH 15: Josh Kendall at The Athletic is reporting that the restructure, as outlined above, is on the table but has not actually been finalized yet, with the team waiting to see if they need the cap space. This is all very confusing!
Original story follows below.
This move is only a surprise because there have been indications Atlanta did not want to keep restructuring this deal. Reports from The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz and others last year indicated that Terry Fontenot did not want to restructure Ryan’s deal in 2021 but felt he had to in order to get the team some breathing room under the salary cap, and NFL Network’s Steve Wyche referred to touching his deal in 2022 as an option of last resort for the Falcons. It’s worth noting that some analysts viewed Ryan’s huge cap hit as untenable and a logical starting point for the team’s efforts to get under the cap, though that wound up being Calvin Ridley’s cap hit owing to his suspension.
Wyche characterizes Matt Ryan’s 2022 cap hit as “code red,” meaning it’d be the last one the team would touch to free up cap space but I just don’t buy that. I still maintain it’ll be one of, if not, the first ones they touch ahead of free agency on March 16th.— Matt Karoly (@mattkaroly) February 28, 2022
It’s possible those are misreadings of the front office’s priorities here, but saving some space in 2022 and reducing this team’s flexibility in 2023 seems to be the polar opposite of what the team has indicated they want to do. Nonetheless, here we are, and this confirms reports that the team fully intended to roll with Ryan in 2022, as had been reported.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Mike Rothstein confirms that the Falcons have tacked voidable years onto Ryan’s deal to help free up space, spreading $3 million per year from 2024-2026. This obviously doesn’t impact their ability to do whatever they want with Ryan’s contract post-2022, but it’s worth noting.
That may mean the team intends to go harder in free agency than we may have thought in 2022, perhaps as a reaction to not having Calvin Ridley and not picking up draft compensation for trading him. It may also just mean they didn’t think they had other quality avenues to create space this year and didn’t feel his number was tenable, and felt that making it a bit harder to move Ryan in 2023 was worthwhile because they will still have the option of extending him or trading him in 2023, even if they have to eat a bit more money with that latter option.
I highly doubt the #Falcons are going to just let Matt eat up $48.6M of their 2022 cap. If he's restructured he'll save the team around $11.3M in 2022 cap space with a potential 2023 release that would cost the team $20.5M in dead cap with a savings of $26.9M ⬇️— Nique (@therealpattman) February 28, 2022
Either way, they’ve freed up enough space to re-sign some of their own free agents, though they still don’t have enough to pursue outside free agents of much consequence without additional moves. You have to figure they’re not close to done yet, especially if reports about their interest in free agent pass rusher Chandler Jones are true.
For the Falcons, this backs up the notion that they view Ryan as someone they can win with, at least in the short term. Atlanta’s new brain trust got a long look at Ryan last year in difficult circumstances, as he played without Calvin Ridley for most of the season and was hit frequently behind a shaky offensive line. Getting better from Ryan and getting better than seven wins overall will depend heavily on how much the Falcons can improve the roster around him, but virtually no one doubts that Ryan can still get the job done if the circumstances are more favorable.
Aside from tacking more money onto his 2023 cap charge, this doesn’t preclude the Falcons from doing essentially whatever they want with Ryan and his deal next year. They could very well draft a successor in 2022, roll with Ryan and then extend him without really thinking about the future beyond him, and so forth. The only concrete conclusion we can draw from this move is that the Falcons thought it was one of their best ways to get cap space for 2022, and that Ryan is locked in as a starter for this year, which again is not surprising.
As a reminder, Ryan signed a 5-year, $150 million contract on May 4, 2018. That contract had previously been restructured by both Thomas Dimitroff and Terry Fontenot, kicking the cap hit down into future years. With Ryan nearing the end of his contract, there are fewer and fewer years to move that cap hit. The result was the massive $48.6 cap hit for 2022, making up an untenable 23% of the team’s overall cap, and the Falcons chose to address that head-on.
Everything else is in the future for now, and we’ll see what the Falcons do with their newly found cap space. Welcome Ryan back officially for his 15th season with Atlanta, and may he and this team win many games this year.