The new contract isn’t just money, though. The new contract is the Falcons’ way of saying: We’ve gotten what we wanted from this guy, and we want to keep getting it. For those who insist the Falcons will never win it all with this QB, ask yourselves this: How long would it take to identify, acquire and groom somebody better? Is there anything in Carson Wentz or Jared Goff, both young and gifted, that makes you believe they’ll have a better decade than Ryan just authored? Four of the top 10 draftees last week were quarterbacks – because their teams are searching for their Matt Ryan.
Lest we forget, Ryan wasn’t always a popular choice as Face of the Franchise. He came after Michael Vick, whose skill set was rather different. Ryan was nit-picked for his lack of arm strength and all the interceptions he threw at Boston College. Given the uncertainty in the organization – rookie general manager, rookie head coach, rookie quarterback – there was never a guarantee that Ryan would make it to Year 5, let alone Year 10 and beyond.
But he did. He started his first game. His first pass (to Michael Jenkins) produced a touchdown. His first season ended in the playoffs. He was on track to becoming what he wanted even then to become – “a quarterback a franchise leans on for 15 or 20 years,” he said Monday. “That was my hope.”
Ten years and two weeks later, it’s reality. He’s under contract for six more years. “The best is in front of us,” he said, and he could be right. The Falcons keep drafting well and giving their Franchise QB more weapons. “I’ve been working hard at it for 10 years, and I’m going to continue to work at it.”
Just seeing Ryan, at 32 a married man with infant twin boys, is a revelation to those of us who saw him in those dizzying days of 2008. He sounds the same, but he looks different. He’s leaner. His flexibility has become an ongoing marvel. He has remade his body – unlike Brady, he hasn’t written a book about it – which is the chief reason he hasn’t gotten hurt. (Well, that and being what Mike Smith famously dubbed him – one tough Irishman.)
Ryan: “I’ve learned a lot about training. Some of that has come by luck. I’ve worked with a lot of good strength and conditioning people – some here, some in California. But it’s really learning yourself, what works for you and what doesn’t. There were times I tried to put on weight. My frame doesn’t carry that as well as it does for some others.”
Then: “I don’t have all the answers. But I have a lot more than I had at 23.”
He recalled those early years – which were, we note, in this same 21st Century – when he received game plans via fax machine and viewed game film on a portable DVD player. Now everything’s on an iPad. The world keeps getting faster and sleeker. So does he.
There have been times over this team’s pockmarked history when we wondered if the Falcons would ever stop tripping over themselves. The 2008 draft was one time they didn’t. Matt Ryan was the greatest draft pick they will ever make. He changed the franchise. He remains The Franchise.