Falcons owner Arthur Blank has walked down this gilded path before.
Back in 2004, he made Michael Vick the highest-paid player in the league with a 10-year $130 million contract.
Nine years later, the Falcons have closely monitored how Joe Flacco’s contract situation has played out in Baltimore.
Flacco, a quarterback from Delaware who was selected 15 picks after Matt Ryan in the 2008 draft, became the NFL’s highest paid player on Monday when he signed a six-year $120.6 million contract. A total of $52 million is guaranteed, the second-highest guarantee of any quarterback in history.
Ryan is set to enter the final year of the six-year, $72 million contract he signed in May of 2008. He had $34.75 million of his original contract guaranteed.
“It’s yet another comparable and data point for Matt Ryan,” said Andrew Brandt, ESPN’s NFL business analyst and former chief negotiator for the Green Bay Packers. “The gold standard was Drew Brees, at least on the average at $20 million (per season). Now, you have $20.1 million. It’s certainly a place they could look at as the freshest data point.”
When the time is right, Ryan appears set to join Flacco in the $100 million club.
“He should average at least $21 million, $22 million or $23 million,” said Joel Corry, a former sports agent who covers football business for the nationalfootballpost.com.
Under Corry’s forecast, a six-year deal for Ryan would fall somewhere between $126 million and $138 million with more that $60 million of it guaranteed.
Corry noted that Ryan is represented by Tom Condon of Creative Artists Agency. Condon also represents several of the league’s top quarterbacks including Peyton and Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III and Philip Rivers.
“The guaranteed money and what your first three years of compensation (is) the most important issue,” said Corry, who received his bachelor’s degree in finance from Emory. “I expect Matt Ryan to exceed $60 million in guarantees. He’s probably going to be at $65 million-plus over the first three years. That wouldn’t surprise me.”
The Falcons are trying to figure out how best to handle Ryan’s contract and craft his salary cap numbers in a way that will allow for the team to take on younger talent and remain highly competitive.
There is no internal debate about Ryan’s worth to the franchise.
“He’s our franchise guy that we’re very proud of, on and off the field,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Matt’s what we’ve been looking for in a quarterback.”
Head coach Mike Smith is also a staunch supporter.
“With quarterbacks, there are a couple of things that they are judged by and one is winning games,” Smith said. “Matt has done an outstanding job for us throughout his entire five years.”
Ryan and Flacco are inexorably linked. In addition to being selected in the same draft, they both started off as rookies who guided their teams to the playoffs.
Ryan has a 56-22 regular-season record. He’s led the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his five seasons and has won two NFC South titles. However, he’s 1-4 in the playoffs.
Flacco, with a much better defense, has enjoyed greater success in the postseason, leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl title in February.
Flacco has a 54-26 regular-season record. He’s taken the Ravens to the playoffs in each of the five past seasons and has a 9-4 postseason record.
Because of Ryan and Flacco’s early success, teams are starting to play quarterbacks earlier in their careers instead of letting them serve an apprenticeship on the sidelines with a clipboard.
The Falcons don’t comment about specific player negotiations, but have acknowledged that they plan to retain Ryan’s services.
“Every team is different, but if you’ve got a marquee quarterback, (a big contract) comes with the territory,” Corry said. “It seems like if you don’t have a marquee quarterback, you’re not going to win a Super Bowl or be in position to win one anyway. So, it’s kind of a nice problem to have to a degree.”