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Schultz: Falcons have painted themselves into costly corner again with Matt Ryan (The Athletic)


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Schultz: Falcons have painted themselves into costly corner again with Matt Ryan

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By Jeff Schultz 8m agosave-icon@2x.png

Matt Ryan turns 36 years old in May. In the past two seasons, he has thrown 25 interceptions, fumbled 15 times (lost three) and absorbed 89 sacks and 134 hits. He also is 18-29 as a starting quarterback since 2018, and while not everything, and not even most things, that have gone wrong with the Falcons are his fault, there’s a lot of wear and tear and seemingly decline folded into those three seasons.

As a general rule, $30 million quarterbacks don’t cross into the middle ages with enormous job security. But the Falcons’ new management might just have extended Ryan’s lifeline in Atlanta.

Inheriting a salary-cap-inbox from ****, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot decided to restructure Ryan’s contract. It’s the fourth time Ryan’s contract has been restructured in the past two years, as the franchise continues its tradition of salary-cap roulette, effectively taking out new credit cards to pay off the old ones.

A source said Fontenot believed he had no other viable options and that this decision does not necessarily change the Falcons’ thinking on drafting a quarterback with the fourth overall pick or sometime early in this draft. Fontenot and new coach Arthur Smith both have acknowledged the need to prepare for Ryan’s and Julio Jones‘ exit.

It is true that the Falcons, who as recently as two weeks ago, were $20 million above the cap with only 39 players under contract, had limited options. The question is whether they would’ve been better off going relative scorched earth for 2021 rather than creating another problem for 2022 and potentially slowing the building process. Among the other options the Falcons could have taken: extending and restructuring the contract of defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (which is still likely at some point) and cutting Dante Fowler post-June.

Choosing to restructure Ryan’s contract again effectively makes it cost-prohibitive to transition to a new quarterback before 2023. By converting about $21 million of his 2021 base salary into a signing bonus and prorating that across three seasons, Ryan’s salary-cap number drops from about $40.9 million to $26.9 million, according to OverTheCap. (Ryan’s contract restructuring was first reported by WSB’s Zach Klein.)

That’s the good. Here’s the bad. While Ryan’s 2022 cap number would’ve risen to $41.66 million in the previous deal, his “dead money” if the Falcons cut or traded him would’ve been $26.52 million with a pre-June deal or a more palatable $17.91 million post-June (with another $8.6 million in 2023).

Under terms of the restructuring, Ryan’s 2022 salary-cap figure balloons to $48.66 million. (Aaaaggh!) If the team moves Ryan, his “dead money” now would be $40.52 million pre-June or $24.91 million post-June (with another $15.61 million in 2023).

That’s not dead money. That’s an entire dead bank. If the Falcons still draft a quarterback next month, here are their three options:

• The draft pick sits for two years.

• The draft pick sits in Year 1 and starts in Year 2, and Ryan becomes a $48.66 million backup (not likely).

• The draft pick sits in Year 1 and starts in Year 2, and Ryan is cut/dealt away as the Falcons get slapped on the cap in 2022 and 2023.

Fontenot and Smith acknowledged the Falcons had cap problems when they were hired. They certainly were more transparent than team president Rich McKay. Pain was inevitable. They stepped into a difficult situation with a number of major decisions to make. This just didn’t figure to be the decision they would make.

If the Falcons choose to draft their quarterback of the future, and they should, there are some recent successful examples to fall back on. Kansas City drafted Patrick Mahomes and sat him for a year. Green Bay had first-rounder Aaron Rodgers sit behind Brett Favre for three years and now seem intent on having Jordan Love sit for a second season behind Rodgers. But the Chiefs haven’t had a losing season since 2012. The Packers went 26-6 with two NFC title appearances in the past two years and can afford the luxury of carrying two potential starting quarterbacks. The Falcons lack that history of success: In the past three years, they finished 7-9, 7-9 and 4-12.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the potential of the Falcons trading down in the first round from fourth overall. It would mean passing on a chance to draft Zach Wilson, Justin Fields or Trey Lance, all highly regarded. But dropping in the round would allow them to collect extra picks to build the roster and draft Alabama’s Mac Jones, who has impressed scouts with his intangibles, such as leadership and command.

Ryan’s restructuring just adds to the pressure on Smith. He was one of the NFL’s best offensive coordinators the past two years in Tennessee, elevating Ryan Tannehill from pedestrian to well north of efficient. In six seasons with Miami, Tannehill threw 123 touchdowns and 75 interceptions with a 62.8 completion percentage and an 87.0 rating. In two years with the Titans, he had 55 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 67.3 completion percentage, a 110.6 rating and a record of 18-8.

If Smith could do that for Tannehill, maybe he can improve Ryan, who certainly regressed under Dirk Koetter. Dan Quinn’s decision to fire Steve Sarkisian and hire Koetter as his replacement in 2019 was the worst decision he made among many bad staffing hires following the Falcons’ Super Bowl year.

If Ryan bounces back in 2021 and the Falcons have a decent season, Fontenot will still have a decision to make for 2022, but it becomes more palatable. If Ryan continues to slide, the Falcons will have created a bigger salary problem for 2022 with a 37-year-old quarterback they can’t get rid of. Because the thing about kicking the can down the road is at some point the road finally ends.

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Schulz doesn’t like the move, which means it will end up being a great decision 

This guy is just cherry picking stats to support his argument. Arthur Smith is a major upgrade from Dirk Koetter. Ryan's floor in that type of offense (when he's found his chemistry with the OC)

Real talk: Ice is still a dayum good QB and the Falcons needed to get under the cap.  Smith and company can run light years around Quinn and Koetter let's not panic on Ice at the moment and see what t

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My fear with kicking the can down the road and refusing to look for Ryan's backup is that the time will come when he calls it or starts to decline and we'll be without a plan in place. How many teams have been put in a bad place once their starter declines or leaves?

Take a look at the aints who now have to fully believe in either Jameis or Taysom Hill. 

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It's not that big a problem, the blueprint is already out there with every other aging, big money QB. 

One day we'll need to bite the bullet, but hopefully by then we'll have a rookie QB on a low cap charge to partially balance out the dead money. 

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2 minutes ago, DonOfThemBirds said:

 

It's possible.

 

They could still find a backup in the draft to be groomed as Ryan's successor though. It's not out the window and it doesn't even have to be a 1st round pick.

It wouldn't hurt my feeling to move back, get more picks, and still end up with a QB like Jones. 

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I don’t read anything Schultz puts out. Dude lost me years ago. If the falcons start playing well, he will be the biggest cheer leader. Bipolar dude. 

11 minutes ago, Jesus said:

So if the Falcons take a QB and fail to fill the holes on defense which leads to another bad season where Matt plays well but the defense is 28th again does Matt take all the blame again?

Schultz has made up his mind. 

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Media loves controversies lol. For me biggest insight I got from AS on this QB class was him comparing to 2011 QB class where 4 QB were taken in top 12. May be it is smoke and mirrors but he brought that up with out a journalist probing or asking him on that comparison.

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Just now, Herr Doktor said:

I think Terry Fontenot and his staff know more than an opinion piece.  If they had cut MR2, I would think it was based on their risk assessment.  

I don’t know if these guys ignored what has been said or it’s sexy to create a qB controversy. 
1. How about TF saying that job was appealing coz of Ryan.

2. HC listing Ryan, Lindstorm, Jake and Grady as core players.

3. Rich McKay and AB saying there won’t be rebuild and they expect the team to win now and next two years. 
 

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3 minutes ago, falcons007 said:

I don’t read anything Schultz puts out. Dude lost me years ago. If the falcons start playing well, he will be the biggest cheer leader. Bipolar dude. 

Schultz has made up his mind. 

Ignoring the coaching staff that struggled to figure out how to field a defense for 5 years, except in 2017 when they did but the fired the guys responsible, is insane. Just look at one play from last year. We all know the play.

The special teams did not know the rule. You can fall on the ball to recover it. That's pee wee level stuff. They were coached not to do it. The ball was rolling to the sideline and even the team and coaching standing there were silent. 

Matt's fault right?

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25 minutes ago, DonOfThemBirds said:

 

It's possible.

 

They could still find a backup in the draft to be groomed as Ryan's successor though. It's not out the window and it doesn't even have to be a 1st round pick.

but if you gonna take a qb in the draft why not just get the best ones why waste a mid round pick on one where most of them turn out to be bad so just get either wilson/fields/lance its that simple

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3 minutes ago, Jesus said:

Ignoring the coaching staff that struggled to figure out how to field a defense for 5 years, except in 2017 when they did but the fired the guys responsible, is insane. Just look at one play from last year. We all know the play.

The special teams did not know the rule. You can fall on the ball to recover it. That's pee wee level stuff. They were coached not to do it. The ball was rolling to the sideline and even the team and coaching standing there were silent. 

Matt's fault right?

The sad part is there are legitimate arguments against Ryan last year that gets lost in generic Blame him for everything. But what these guys fail to realize is even in Ryan’s down year they could have won 8-9 games if the team didn’t beat themselves. They had no business losing Dallas, Chicago, Detroit and even the KC game. The Bucs game defense just couldn’t even force punts. 

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