With the way the 2020 season has gone, it’s hard not to be somewhat convinced that the Falcons should totally blow it up — from top to bottom — and start from scratch. They’ve already begun in that direction, firing head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after an 0-5 start, and it will be up to the new regime to decide where to turn next.
That could include moving on from Matt Ryan after thirteen seasons as the team’s starting quarterback, and perhaps finding a trade partner for Julio Jones, followed by the release and trades of any pieces the new regime deems will not be around when the team is ready to compete again. It’s an eery thought for a franchise that seemed minutes away from holding up their first Lombardi Trophy, but the reality is that was four years ago, and the situation has only worsened in each season since.
I’ve been an avid supporter of Ryan for his entire career. I have always pushed the narrative to anyone who wanted to argue about it that he would eventually win a Super Bowl — even after he played a role in the Falcons 28-3 collapse against the Patriots. Without a shred of doubt in my mind, I still think that’s the case today; just go look back at his tape against the Bucs. He was nearly flawless for the entirety of the game, and his numbers were off the charts, but that’s always kind of been the thing with Ryan in Atlanta. His numbers can go head-to-head with almost every quarterback in the Hall-of-Fame. For three quarters, he’s the second coming of Peyton Manning. But for some reason — come winning time — Ryan and the Falcons collapse, something that has been going on long before Dan Quinn arrived.
Think back to 2012; Matt Ryan is taking the field in the Divisional Round against the Seahawks after finishing 13-3 and clinching home-field throughout the playoffs. A lot of people were high on Seattle after their Wild Card win and expected them to give Ryan, who had yet to have any success in the playoffs, a lot of trouble with their aggressive defense. That wasn’t the case.
Ryan shredded the Seahawks talented secondary on the way to a 20-0 lead at half. The Falcons kept the pressure on in the third quarter, but something seemed to happen in the fourth — the beginning of a miserable trend in Atlanta. Russell Wilson led Seattle all the way back to a take a one-point lead behind three fourth-quarter touchdown drives. However, I remember this game so vividly because it was one of the few times the Falcons were able to pull it out. Matt Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez over the middle of the field with just enough time for Money Matt Bryant to give the Falcons their first playoff win in the Ryan era. It was one of the most memorable moments in franchise history. However, what happened the next week would be much more representative of the path that the Falcons were heading.
The NFC Championship against the 49ers in the same building was a carbon copy of the game against the Seahawks, except for the Falcons couldn’t find a way to win at the end. After jumping out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, the Falcons seemed to do everything wrong down the stretch, leading to a crushing defeat at the hands of Colin Kaepernick.
From blown assignments to mishandled snaps and everything in between, nothing went right for Atlanta as they were shutout in the second half. Of course, the game also ended on a questionable pass interference that wasn’t called, but it should never have gotten to that point, which is something we can say about four or five games for the Falcons this season.
Just like after the Super Bowl, the Falcons were never able to recover from that devastating loss in the NFC Championship, and after the couple of lackluster seasons that followed, Mike Smith was canned and Quinn was hired. This is where the case to keep Matt Ryan comes into play.
While the end of Quinn’s tenure in Atlanta may have been disastrous, the transition was actually pretty smooth. By his second season, the Falcons featured the MVP of the league and were up by 25 points in the Super Bowl. You can’t get much better than that without actually winning the Super Bowl. He had the Falcons at the pinnacle of the sport, and while Kyle Shanahan probably deserves the bulk of the credit for that, the point remains the same: with a competent coaching staff, Matt Ryan can get the job done, and improvements can happen quickly.
There are also many fair points to be made about all the dead cap the Falcons would have to absorb if they were to trade cornerstone pieces like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. My counterpoint to that argument is that if the new general manager and head coach feel that undergoing a total rebuild is the best way to get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl, they aren’t going to mind eating some dead cap for a couple of years while the team is not competitive. Going in this direction would allow Atlanta to focus on development, acquire more draft capital, and better draft capital (higher draft picks). However, here is why I don’t think the Falcons will choose to totally rebuild and will continue with Matt Ryan at quarterback.
Atlanta may be 4-10, but they might be the best 4-10 team of all-time. They lost three games in which they had a win probability at or near 99%. With a competent coaching staff, the Falcons are already a .500 football team, and that’s not including the 17-point lead they just blew to the Bucs in the second half. The good news about that 4-10 record, though, is the high draft pick the Falcons will receive.
With Atlanta scheduled to play Kansas City and Tampa Bay on the road to end the season, they are essentially a lock to pick in the Top 10 and could pick as high as third. There aren’t many teams put together as well as the Falcons that get to pick that high. This is a class that is loaded with talented prospects, especially quarterbacks. It might be wise for Atlanta to use that to their advantage and pick up multiple extra draft picks by moving back. This would allow them to patch more holes, especially on defense, giving Ryan the best chance to win now.
The last thing the regime has to consider when deciding whether or not to move on from Ryan is who is calling plays. If you follow the site, you know this is an anti-Dirk Koetter page. I fired all the guys who wrote the Koetter fluff pieces (kidding, but not really). He’s failed to establish the run, he fails in the Red Zone, and he fails when it matters most (the fourth quarter). Keeping Koetter around was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back, resulting in the canning of Dan Quinn. Had Quinn attempted to replace him, perhaps he would still be the Falcons head man today.
We don’t know if the new head coach will be an offensive or defensive guy. Hell, he could even be a special teams coordinator. But I do know there are tons of offensive coordinators that would love to work with Matt Ryan, and there is still no doubt in my mind that he can lead a team to the Lombardi Trophy. However, I will admit that with each passing season, a cloud of doubt grows that it can happen with the Falcons. They’ve had many holes to patch up for years and have been unable to fix them, so if the new regime did decide to scrap it and start from scratch, I don’t think anyone could blame them.