The Atlanta Falcons restructuring Matt Ryan’s contract makes sense

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 09: Head coach Arthur Smith of the Atlanta Falcons talks with Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter in the game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 09: Head coach Arthur Smith of the Atlanta Falcons talks with Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter in the game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

With Matt Ryan’s contract restructured, and the veteran locked in for the Atlanta Falcons for another season, it’s time to explore why that move makes sense.

On Friday, March 11th, the Atlanta Falcons confirmed that they would be restructuring Matt Ryan’s contract. This is the first of, what we assume, will be a series of dominoes to fall over the next few days, as the Falcons endeavor to put themselves in a financially favorable position, heading into free agency.

Prior to the move, Matt Ryan was slated to count for ~$48mil, which would have been the largest cap hit in the history of the NFL. As a result of the move, the Falcons have gained ~$12mil in space, which, alongside expected extensions to Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews, gives the Falcons the wiggle room they need to sign their draft class, as well as flesh out a desperately thin roster, heading into the 2022 season.

The move has been questioned, however. Ryan has seen his contract restructured 5 times in a row, by both the Thomas Dimitroff regime and the Terry Fontenot regime, and there have been legitimate concerns over how heavy that contract will weigh down the road. In the light of day, however, the move itself certainly makes a level of sense. Well, from a certain point of view.

Question marks

The immediate impact is obvious. The Falcons open up a bit of room under the cap to play with heading into 2022. That money can be allocated towards retaining one, or some, of their upcoming free agents. The Falcons are talent bereft as it is, and retaining a familiar contributor (Cordarrelle Patterson, Foyesade Oluokun, Isaiah Oliver), would go some way to ensuring the transition from 2021 to 2022 is slightly less painful than it could be.

With the new league season just around the corner, and free agency coming with that, the Falcons now have the wherewithal to pursue one, or some, of the larger fish in the pond. Earlier on Friday afternoon, NFL insider, Jordan Schultz, reported that the Falcons were one of a handful of teams with an interest in pass-rush specialist Chandler Jones. Would the Falcons be the first choice for Jones in 2022? Unlikely. But the Falcons have a need at the position, and, given Jones’ production over the course of his career, would undeniably be a coup for Atlanta. With money freed up, they now have the option to make a play.

More importantly, however, is what the move does for the Falcons long term. Moving on from Ryan pre-June 1st in 2022 would have burdened them with a dead cap hit of ~$40mil. Yes, it would have freed up ~$8mil, but having around 20% of your cap taken up by a player who isn’t even on the team isn’t smart business, by anyone’s measure. Per Spotrac, the restructure puts Ryan’s cap hit in 2023 at ~$46.6mil, however, the dead money hit stands at ~$27.6mil. Simply put: the Falcons have a clear “out” come the end of the 2022 season.

Beginning of the end

We’ve talked already about the Falcons’ desire for a “succession plan” at the QB position. This move is the clearest indication yet that we’re going to see that plan enacted in 2022. No matter which way you cut it, $27mil is a far more palatable dead cap hit than $40mil. With the added bonus of saving $19mil with the transaction, as well as the salary cap likely to increase accordingly, the Falcons stand to be in a very good financial state in 2023, without completely sacrificing 2022.

More importantly, for the likes of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith, it means they can achieve that scenario, and potentially enjoy the benefits. Speaking realistically, an operation is likely to receive 3 years to prove its viability before ownership decides to take action and cut loose. It’s very easy to look at moves such as this through the eyes of the fan because, well, we are fans. The idea of completely writing off a season in pursuit of a top-shelf talent is certainly appealing. That sort of scenario isn’t viable for regimes, and it gets people fired. The Fontenot/Smith duo has maybe 3 seasons to prove it is capable of producing winning Falcons football, or they’re out the door with a terrible record, and the next GM/HC pair enjoying a favorable cap situation, and a high-end rookie QB.

Win now, and win in the future

When hired by the Falcons last year, Terry Fontenot spoke about how he believed the Falcons could “win now, and win in the future.” Only a couple of weeks ago, he reiterated his desire to “have our cake and eat it too.” Clearly, this is the MO he was hired on. Moves such as this indicate a desire for the Falcons to be “there or thereabouts” in 2022, with one eye on building a team capable of being more than that moving forward. And, given the dirge of talent in the NFC as a whole, the current setup might well believe that they can assemble a team good enough to stake a claim for one of the seven playoff spots available.

Cards on the table, I don’t really agree with the decision. I feel there were other routes (the aforementioned Jarrett and Matthews extensions, for example) the Falcons could have taken to achieve a decent enough cap situation, without pushing some of that money into 2023. I’m not the one who loses a living if the Falcons lose games, however. Nor am I in charge of putting together a professional football roster. With everything in mind, the move itself is pretty understandable. To quote Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian in the 2018 box office flop “Solo: A Star Wars Story”: I don’t like it, I don’t agree with it, but I accept it.

Next. 3 Players the Atlanta Falcons could target to replace Calvin Ridley. dark