The Falcons had a very quiet quarterback situation at the beginning of March. They reportedly were holding on to Matt Ryan, they had some interest in this upcoming quarterback class for a potential successor, and Feleipe Frank was lurking in the background somewhere. That all changed in a hurry after the Falcons tried and failed to trade for Deshaun Watson, and now we’re left to wonder what’s next for the team and their longtime quarterback.
Ryan surely understands his time in Atlanta is dwindling—he’s 36 years old and the Falcons didn’t rule out selecting his replacement in 2021 right up until the draft—but I’m pretty sure this was not how he expected it to almost happen. Reporting indicates that he’s not exactly thrilled about it, and the Falcons had to understand when they pursued Watson that if they failed that the effect would be a potentially unhappy quarterback they appeared to be planning to roll with for at least the 2022 season.
Reported on @CBSSportsHQ this a.m. that while Matt Ryan was willing to work with the Falcons — the only franchise he's ever played for — and while they did keep him in the loop on things, he wasn't exactly a happy camper about all this. Obviously.— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) March 18, 2022
If those reports are accurate, my opinion is that there’s essentially no chance Ryan just comes back on the deal he’s previously signed. The Falcons have to deliver a $7.5 million roster bonus on Tuesday and I doubt Ryan and his team are going to be willing to move that deadline again, if such a thing can even be done. Further complicating things, longtime NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein suggests that Ryan’s reps are angling for a new deal, one that would take him through his age 39 season.
He wants a new contract. Heard from league sources his agent wants 3 years on a brand, new deal.— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) March 19, 2022
Prior to the Watson pursuit, the Falcons were being very careful about avoiding any public long-term commitments to Ryan, a player they appeared attached to as a short-term option but not a long-term one. Arthur Blank’s desire to save face may be intense, but I have to imagine Terry Fontenot and the front office are going to balk if Ryan’s representation really is looking for a new three year deal, given that the team went so hard after Watson. If you love a quarterback in this draft class or are eyeing, say, C.J. Stroud in the next one, anything that makes it more difficult to move on from Ryan when you’re ready has to be a non-preferred outcome at this point. That assumes, again, that the team wants to and can salvage the relationship to the point where both sides are good with pushing forward with Ryan at the helm. If they can get there without re-doing the deal significantly, chances are they’ll do so.
If that doesn’t happen, it leaves a trade. Where might he go? The Colts, Dolphins, Eagles, and Seahawks are logical landing spots, with the Colts persistently coming up because of their outsized need at quarterback and how solid the rest of the roster looks, though they do not have a first round pick if the Falcons want one. As Kevin Knight noted, the Eagles restructured Darius Slay’s contract yesterday to free up nearly $12 million and getting them around $27 million in cap space, which is interesting timing given Ryan’s availability and the salary Philly would need to absorb. The advantage for the Falcons of making a trade with the Dolphins or Eagles would be that they could likely pry Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa loose from those teams, giving them affordable young quarterbacks they could evaluate as long-term solutions or simply use as bridges to their preferred draft choice.
Matt Ryan has been the best quarterback in franchise history, but we are hurtling toward the end of his long and distinguished career in Atlanta, whether it’s in a couple of days or a couple of years. The Falcons appeared ready to make that imminent, but now the big question at the moment is whether Ryan returns—likely on an adjusted or extended deal—or if he’s already played his final down with Atlanta.