Lombardi: If the Falcons were going to trade Matt Ryan, it should have happened last year

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From an outside perspective, the Atlanta Falcons will have several difficult decisions to make this offseason. Of course, Terry Fontenot and the staff could already be comfortable in their plan, but that won’t stop speculation. Eyes will be on the contracts of Matt Ryan, Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, as well as the impending free agents Cordarrelle Patterson, Younghoe Koo, Foye Oluokun, Fabian Moreau and more.

The focus for many people will surround Ryan’s situation, though. And rightfully so, the state of the franchise is extremely confusing. The first-year regime has been steady in their message of wanting to compete right away, but sentiments just as consistent as that were they won’t sacrifice the future to win right now.

Fontenot and Smith’s first draft and free agent class didn’t exactly inspire much confidence for that particular goal, though. So where will the Falcons go now? The expectation is they’ll continue moving forward in building as competitive of a roster as possible without completely selling out their future. However, the product Smith and Fontenot saw on the field this year could change their minds.

Even though the team has won seven games and could make it eight with a victory on Sunday against the Saints, the product has been much worse than their record. The Falcons have the worst point differential in the league and one of the highest in NFL history for a team with seven wins. So, to me, there is more to question than last offseason in terms of where this team is going.

Could they completely gut the roster and initiate a rebuild? It is possible. It would likely anger many fans who were calling for that exact strategy when Fontenot and Smith initially took over. Ryan’s incredibly bloated contract was always going to be an obstacle for this regime to overcome. Combine that with the overall lack of talent on the roster, and “winning” will be nearly impossible.

Ryan’s $48.7 million cap hit in 2022 is an eye-popping figure that won’t ever allow the Falcons to give him the supporting staff he’d need to win a championship without nailing every single draft pick and free-agent signing in 2022. With the amount of dead cap attached to his contract, cutting Ryan isn’t an option, but trading him could be an outcome, given the motivation to generate cap space and more draft capital.

It is unclear how the front office feels about the situation; more than likely, Ryan will be under center in 2022. Trading him this offseason makes sense in a vacuum without perspective, but the time to deal Ryan was last year, says NFL Insider Michael Lombardi, who on 92.9’s Midday Show, explained that Ryan would likely be under center next season.

“Who’s going to replace him?” Lombardi told the cohosts. “And they lose $40 million of dead money if they cut him–if they do it before June–and $8 million if they do it after June. He does have trade value. At (age) 37, I don’t know how much trade value. But he has shown that he can still play effectively behind a good offensive line.”

Then Andy and Randy asked Lombardi if he thinks Ryan will be the starting quarterback to start the 2022 season.

“I think he is,” Lombardi told them. “I think the time to replace Matt Ryan was last year.”

Only time will tell if Lombardi is correct, but I am of the opinion that you should be fully committed to one or the other. And I think that Fontenot and Smith are committed to winning football games, which Ryan gives them the best chance to do so.

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