The Falcons began the first and largest step towards the inevitable rebuild by trading Matt Ryan. Atlanta’s trajectory has long been connected to Ryan’s overly restructured contract, which had to come off the books. The Falcons’ roster just wasn’t in a position to maximize Ryan’s twilight years. The answer was always to tear it down and rebuild, which always started with getting rid of Ryan’s bloated contract. What makes matters worse is Blank seemingly admitted what we all already knew.
“You can think of it as kind of a credit card,” Blank said. “At some point, you have to pay the bank. At some point, there is a day of reckoning. All the extensions (of Ryan’s contract) we did were a team decision. It was driven by the coach and general manager. I obviously was aware of it, (but) I don’t get involved in those levels of detail as far as restructuring.”
The Falcons needed to part ways with Ryan, and one of the league’s most notable reporters couldn’t agree more. In Peter King’s Football Morning in America, the storied King confirms everything Falcons fans have been saying for years:
Falcons owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta media (and me, later) that he hadn’t made the final call on whether the Falcons would have traded for Deshaun Watson—had Watson told the Falcons they were his first-choice team. For a team that investigated Watson and then spent 75 minutes with him and then made the Texans an offer for him that GM Nick Caserio found acceptable, let’s just say I find it questionable if Watson wanted to come they might have said no.
Blank said wonderful things to me about Matt Ryan, and I believe he truly loves the guy. But the contract and cap number were onerous, and after one more year (this one) of a heavy ($40.5 million) number, they’ll be clean next year. Cap problems have cost the Falcons three players of good value in recent classes: linebackers Foyesade Oluokun (now a Jaguar) and De’Vondre Campbell (Packers) and center Alex Mack (49ers).
“Getting out from under this tremendous burden is going to be big for our team,” Blank told me. “It’s really hard to build a complete team when the quarterback is making 25, 20 percent of our cap. Next year, as of now, we could be $110 million under the cap, and we’ll be able to operate aggressively [in free agency] if that’s what we choose to do.”
It’s always easy to say, Just push money into the future on the cap. But when the cap goes down or is relatively stagnant, as happened in Covid times with league and team revenue reduced, big contracts eventually come due. Ryan going to the Colts was good for the Falcons, good for Ryan (who needed a fresh start) and potentially season-changing for the Colts.