COVER 9@9: Poor personnel moves, not Matt Ryan’s contract led to slide

Here's a quick look at some key stats for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for the 2020 season and his 13-year career.

1. The no-spin zone: The Falcons were coming off two near misses in the playoffs in 2016 and 2017.

They were thought to have the makings of a championship-level team that would contend for at least a few more years. So, no one hesitated when it was time to extend Matt Ryan’s contract.

Both sides wanted to do a deal that was fair to Ryan, the greatest quarterback in franchise history, and one that wouldn’t severely impede the team’s ability to get better.

With a quarterback on a five-year, $150 million contract, the Falcons had to draft wisely and sign quality free agents.

The Falcons are 18-40 since Ryan signed his contract in May 2018. The Falcons went 7-9, 7-9 and 4-12 because they struck out in the NFL draft and in free agency.

The draft problems started before the deal.

In 2017, they erred on defensive end Takk McKinley (first round), linebacker Duke Riley (third round) and guard Sean Harlow (fourth round). Damontae Kazee (fifth round) turned into a starter and running back Brian Hill (fifth round) was a solid backup and special-teams player. Tight end Eric Saubert played two seasons before going to Chicago in 2019 and Jacksonville in 2020.

From the 2018 draft, wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been a player, while cornerback Isaiah Oliver (second round) has struggled. Defensive tackle Deadrin Senat (third round) has been mostly inactive, while running back Ito Smith (fourth round) has been effective when healthy.

Wide receiver Russell Gage (fifth round) and linebacker Foye Oluokun (sixth round) have turned into starters.

In the 2019 draft, guard Chris Lindstrom (first round) looks like the only for-sure keeper. Right tackle Kaleb McGary (first round), cornerback Kendall Sheffield (fourth round) and defensive end/tackle John Cominsky (fourth round) have struggled. Running back Qadree Ollison (fifth round) couldn’t get on the field when the Falcons needed running back help. Cornerback Jordan Miller (fifth round) and returner Marcus Green (sixth round) were released.

The jury is still out on the 2020 draft, although cornerback A.J. Terrell (first round) and linebacker Mychal Walker (fourth round) look like keepers. Defensive tackle Marlon Davidson (second round), center Matt Hennessy (third round), safety Jaylinn Hawkins (fourth round) and punter Sterling Hofrichter (sixth) didn’t prove much in 2020.

In addition to the shaky drafting, the Falcons whiffed in free agency with the signings of offensive linemen Jamon Brown and James Carpenter and defensive end Dante Fowler.

2. Ryan now a bargain? When Ryan signed his $150 million extension in 2018 it was the richest contract for a quarterback.

More than a handful of deals have been inked since that surpass the former NFL MVP’s annual $30 million salary.

On Monday, the Cowboys signed Dak Prescott to a $160 million, four-year contract with $126 million guaranteed and an NFL-record $66 million signing bonus.

At $40 million per season, Prescott ranks second in the NFL in annual salary to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who is at $45 million annually in a $450 million, 10-year deal that could eventually exceed $500 million in value. Houston’s Deshaun Watson is third at $39 million annually.

Ryan, who becomes a free agent in 2024, now falls to ninth on the list of top moneymakers.

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

$450 million, 10 years

· Annual average: $45 million

· Age signed: 24

· Contract years: 2020-31

2. Dak Prescott, Cowboys

$160 million, 4 years

· Annual avg.: $40 million

· Age signed: 27

· Contract years: 2021-24

3. Deshaun Watson, Texans

$156 million, 4 years

· Annual avg.: $39 million

· Age signed: 24

· Contract years: 2020-25

4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks

$140 million, 4 years

· Annual avg.: $35 million

· Age signed: 30

· Contract years: 2019-23

5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers

$134 million, 4 years

· Annual avg.: $33.5 million

· Age signed: 34

· Contract years: 2018-23

6. Jared Goff, Rams/Lions

$134 million, 4 years

· Annual avg.: $33.5 million

· Age signed: 24

· Contract years: 2019-24

7. Kirk Cousins, Vikings

$66 million, 2 years

· Annual avg.: $33 million

· Age signed: 31

· Contract years: 2020-22

8. Carson Wentz, Eagles/Colts

$128 million, 4 years

· Annual avg.: $32 million

· Age signed: 26

· Contract years: 2019-24

9. Matt Ryan, Falcons

$150 million, 5 years

· Annual avg.: $30 million

· Age signed: 32

· Contract years: 2018-23

10. Ryan Tannehill, Titans

$118 million, 4 years

· Annual avg.: $29.5 million

· Age signed: 31

· Contract years: 2020-23

Credit: AJC

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah discusses the top quarterbacks in the draft, including Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields.

Credit: AJC

3. Fields, Lance or Hurts: NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah was asked by Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Inquirer to rank Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

The Eagles have the No. 8 pick, but reportedly are not looking at the quarterbacks.

“I would say the highest ceiling would be Justin Fields,” Jeremiah said. “Just because his speed and athleticism. Trey Lance is a great runner, and I think Trey Lance is probably going to run in the high 4.5s which is just incredible and Jalen Hurts is a really good runner, but Justin Fields can be a home-run hitter as a runner. It’s just his speed makes him a little bit different there.”

He also considered Fields the best passer of the group.

Jalen Hurts, I had as my 50th (ranked) player and I thought he had a chance to be a quality starting quarterback (at) the NFL level,” Jeremiah said. “These two kids to me have a much higher ceiling. If you’re looking a ceiling, that would be the order that I would go.”

4. UGA cornerbacks: Former Georgia cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes are projected to be drafted in the second round.

“If you’re looking for big corners, both of the Georgia corners are going to go in the second round,” Jeremiah said. “When you look at Tyson Campbell as well as Stokes, from Georgia, both of those guys are big and fast. Eric Stokes, the other day, everybody saw the training. He was running in the 4.2s.”

Campbell (6-feet-2 and 185 pounds) and Stokes (6-1, 185) are considered big cornerbacks.

“Those are big-time size, speed corners that I think you’ll see come off the board in the second round,” Jeremiah said. “It’s a really good group of corners in round two. Then after that, it really starts to drop off on my list.”

5. Neal to test waters: The Falcons are not going to use their franchise tag on strong safety Keanu Neal, his agent confirmed Tuesday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Neal, who was selected in the first round (17th overall) in 2016, has started 48 of 49 games played over the past five seasons.

Near the end of last season, Neal cited his favorite memory being the Super Bowl run the Falcons went on during his rookie season. Neal has played last season under the fifth-year option, valued at $6.5 million.

Neal suffered a torn ACL in the 2018 season and an Achilles injury in 2019 that cut his time to four games over two seasons.

6. Didn’t work out: James Carpenter was released Tuesday to save the Falcons $4 million against the salary cap.

The offensive lineman was signed as a free agent in 2019 and started 24 games over the past two season. The Augusta native was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the first round (25th overall) of the 2011 NFL draft.

Over 10 seasons, he played in 127 games and made 121 starts. He helped Seattle reach Super Bowl XLVIII.

With the release of Carpenter, the Falcons are projected to be $16.2 million over the projected $180 million salary cap. The team couldn’t afford to place the $11.2 million franchise tag for a safety on Neal.

7. Competition for Hofrichter: The Falcons signed punter Dom Maggio to a one-year deal to compete against Sterling Hofrichter, who averaged 42.5 yards per punt last season.

Maggio was signed by the Ravens following the 2020 NFL draft and was released by the team Aug. 1.

Maggio played in 52 games at Wake Forest, where he finished second in school history with 291 punts and 12,703 yards. Maggio recorded 101 career punts inside the 20 and had a career-long punt of 80 yards and finished with a 43.7 career punting average, which ranks third in school history.

Maggio was named second-team All-ACC and nominated for the Ray Guy Award as a senior in 2019.

Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) carries against New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)
Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) carries against New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

8. Read Across America: Falcons fullback Keith Smith took part in Tackle Reading Across America Day.

Smith read “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You” to the third grade at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy on Atlanta’s Westside and took part in a Q&A with the students via Zoom.

9. Falcons’ 2021 draft position: Here are the picks in D. Led’s Mock Draft 2.0: Top five picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)

2. New York Jets: Justin Fields, (QB, Ohio State)

3. Miami Dolphins: Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)

4. Falcons: Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, (OT, Oregon)

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