Is Falcons’ Matt Ryan the NFL’s best deep passer?

December 19, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the football against San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner (54) during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
December 19, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the football against San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner (54) during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

If one wishes to learn about the Atlanta Falcons on social media, just look up one name: Matt Ryan. The 36-year-old veteran has been at the Falcons’ helm for 14 years, arguably presiding over the best stretch in franchise history. That said, it’s legitimate on social media that, to truly start a debate in the vitriolic category, just prop up Ryan. It’s essentially clockwork.

So, leave it to the good folks over at Pro Football Focus to start one up for us.

Through the 15 weeks of the current 2021 regular season, PFF calculated the passer rating of all quarterbacks on “deep passes”, or anything thrown 20+ yards downfield. Keep in mind, the highest a quarterback can receive on this grade is a 158.3, which isn’t easy to accomplish by any stretch.

Matt Ryan, according to Pro Football Focus, is the best quarterback by this numeric.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a misnomer. In fact, it’s truthfully shocking, to say the least.

Out of all the quarterbacks in the league today, only two quarterbacks have a passer rating over 120.0 in this category. One of them is Justin Herbert, the Los Angeles Chargers signal-caller, who has a huge cannon of an arm.

The other? Matt Ryan. In fact, Ryan’s slightly better than Herbert by PFF’s metrics.

Let’s be real here for a second: the Atlanta Falcons are a pipe dream team at this point. Yes, they’ve essentially done what they hoped and are playing somewhat meaningful games into December, but there’s nothing to say they were a legitimate threat in the NFC playoff picture. If anything, had they squeaked in as the 7 seed, they’d have been smacked all over the field by the 2 seed and done in the first round.

Not to mention, but on the only drive the Falcons had which resulted in a touchdown, Ryan was aided super heavily by a questionable roughing the passer penalty on 49ers defensive lineman Arden Key, who sacked him from behind and landed with the “full body weight” on him. Yes, it bailed out the team, but it’s one of those where Key did everything right, and he was punished for it.

Also, when it comes to Ryan’s play, yes this is a cliche, but it’s true: offensive line play will dictate ANY quarterback’s play. Look at how Ryan played against the 49ers on Sunday. Yes, he is the main reason the team lost (three chances inside the 10-yard line and zero points?). Even Tom Brady would agree with this statement, and he’s 44; does anyone legitimately think he wants to be taking a bunch of sacks or hits like Ryan is?

Better yet, does Brady want his linemen blocking a freaking ghost, like Jalen Mayfield did on Sunday, or scrambling in a feeble Michael Vick impersonation at the two-yard line and being body slammed into the turf by a defender? You’d be better off playing the lottery before that happens.

Essentially, the dude does take a heck of a beating every single week, yet he’s only missed three games in his entire career due to injury. With the way he took that hit from Tartt, he could’ve easily missed some more.

Financially speaking, the Falcons are tied to Matt Ryan for at least one more year.

It’s fair to be honest here: this makes roughly no sense. Ryan’s an old player, and to many, his contract is what’s causing the Falcons to currently sit outside of the playoff picture. Simply put, all the money going to him doesn’t offer enough leeway to sign anyone who can help in the short term.

Furthermore, Ryan’s contract also has enough provisions in it that make it difficult to trade him, even with a post-June-1st designation. Currently, Ryan’s deal will account for roughly 23% of the Falcons’ cap space in 2022 (approximate value: $48.6 million). Also, while the Falcons do have an “out” after this year, they’ll still eat over $40 million in dead cap money. Here’s a real question that needs answering: you’re an employer, and you want to get rid of someone who isn’t performing to the level of the company. However, to do so means they still get paid an existential amount of money. Would you do it without a competent backup plan in place?

Sure, making a trade with this designation would save roughly $16 million, but it’s still money the team will have to pay. It’s not like Atlanta could get off scot-free again like the Julio Jones trade (which, surprisingly, seems to be working in the team’s favor as of publication).

For right now, the best option is to potentially extend Ryan’s deal for one more year, and once 2022 ends, then consider the trade. This is because regardless of whether the Falcons release or trade Ryan, the dead cap hit would be approximately $15,612,500, which would save the team $28 million in the cap, and Ryan’s contract would expire after 2023, so there’s no dead money.

Long story short: the team has decisions to make, and we’ll see what they decide. Until then, instead of joining in vitriolic debates, why not try and appreciate what we’ve got? Who knows when the next time will come?

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