Last week I wrote a piece for our weekly Overreaction Tuesday publication, in which I presented multiple futures without Matt Ryan. The function of the article was to illustrate the financial ramifications of these different scenarios. The Falcons situation with their salary cap prompted the question, “if it is possible,” not “if Atlanta should move on” based on his current level of play. Even if it followed a costly mistake, the article was also not out of malice in response to Ryan’s game-ending interception that caused the 0-5 start, leading to Dan Quinn’s eventual firing. This Friday’s rant is for all those Falcons fans who think the organization would be better off without Matt Ryan.
Statistically, few quarterbacks were better than Matt Ryan in his first five seasons. Five consecutive winning seasons, including two No.1 seeds for a franchise that never had back-to-back winning seasons before his arrival is astonishingly improbable. Ryan has the most wins (56) in the regular season of any quarterback through five years, largely thanks to his 23 game-winning drives. The rest of his career has followed similarly. These rankings are for career numbers: 9th in passing yards, 11th in passing touchdowns and passer rating, 6th in completion percentage, and 8th in fourth-quarter comebacks. Statistically, he is inarguably the best quarterback in franchise history.
Some readers may try to negate these numbers by arguing that Ryan is always playing from behind, rendering more passing opportunities, or that he’s simply accumulated these stats by staying healthy over a long career. Matt Ryan is an incredibly durable quarterback, starting in the 12th most games ever at his position, so why is this seen as a negative quality?
Availability is the best ability a football player can have, and since Ryan entered the league, he has been as enduring as any other quarterback. Playing from behind is a notoriously naive comment usually attached to Matt Ryan or Drew Brees as a reason for their illustrious passing numbers. I would insert that the supporting defensive situation is out of their control and should not be counted against either of them.
Wins by a starting quarterback (1970-2016) supported by a defense ranked 16th or worse in points surrendered is a relevant measurement of how many times a quarterback shouldered the load without much help from their defense. In the chart below, you can see just how bad the defenses have been in Atlanta for Matt Ryan. This does not mean that Matt Ryan is better than any other quarterback on this list; it just highlights the fact that many games were won in Atlanta with subpar defenses. Many other games were lost, but to site Ryan as the sole reason for those losses is lazy and irresponsible.
Keeping Matt Ryan around should be decided between the new general manager and head coach. However, it is undeniable that he can lead the Falcons to the playoffs and a Super Bowl if surrounded by the right pieces. As an advocate of firing Dan Quinn, I mentioned that a positive outcome would be more time for the new regime to evaluate the current roster. If they value Matt Ryan’s stability and leadership qualities, he could see himself in a similar situation as Aaron Rodgers with Matt LaFleur.
An offensive-minded head coach would probably want to compete immediately with Ryan under center while his replacement develops in the meantime. LaFleur went 13-3 and lost in the NFC Championship game in his first season with Green Bay. That followed a 6-9-1 season with similar personnel.
Simply put, the Falcons can reload in one offseason and become contenders again. What is more complicated is the process necessary to achieve that turnaround. Starting a rebuild with two of the most expensive contracts at their respective positions is difficult, so ridding the team’s salary cap of Ryan’s contract would behoove an immediate rebuild.
Production-wise, however, Ryan is still one of the best QBs in the game, and Atlanta’s success on offense is proof of that. With a great draft class and some wise decisions in free agency — much like the Falcons did in the 2016 offseason before their Super Bowl run — they can turn this around and enjoy the final years of Matt Ryan’s career.