Blank open to Falcons moving on from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and wide receiver Julio Jones (11) take the field ahead of game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Oct 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and wide receiver Julio Jones (11) take the field ahead of game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Oct 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

It’s at least possible that the Falcons will move on from Matt Ryan or Julio Jones, or even both, this offseason.

During his end-of-season news conference, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was asked if his preference was for both Ryan and Jones to be included in the roster plans for whoever he hires at coach and general manager. Blank affirmed that any decision on Ryan and Jones’ standing will come from the new front office following their hirings.

“You cannot hire the very best people you can hire, whether it be general managers or head coaches, and tie their hands and tell them this person is off limits and that one is off limits,” Blank said. “What you’re asking them for, which is not off limits and needs to be probed deeply, is do they have a championship plan? Do they have a plan on turning around the franchise sooner rather than later so we’re winning in 2021? Do we have a plan that is sustainable over a long period of time so we can make sure this team is competitive, not just for the next year or two but over a longer period of time than that?

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“Whatever that plan looks like, and we’re all part of the discussion and we’ll all anoint and approve it, etc., and however that affects certain players, it affects certain players.”

Ryan was selected with the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. In 13 years, Ryan has started and played in 205 games, ranking ninth all-time in passing yards with 55,767.

Jones was taken with the sixth overall pick in 2011, with the Falcons trading 21 picks up for, and has totaled 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns during his illustrious career.

Until a new coach and general manager are hired, a lot of unknowns will remain when it comes to the construction of the roster. But Blank did point out that the franchise underwent a transition from a star player in recent history.

After the 2015 season, the Falcons felt it was time to move on from receiver Roddy White, especially with Jones having blossomed into a star. Similarly, Blank noted that receiver Calvin Ridley, who tied for fifth in receiving yards this year with 1,374 while snagging nine touchdowns, has evolved into a focal point of the Falcons’ offense.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank said he won’t tie the hands of the new GM, head coach by stating that they must keep Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

“I’m not saying Julio is a great example but we selected someone like (Calvin) Ridley and he could potentially be a superstar around for us for a number of years,” Blank said. “That’s the healthy transition that fans should expect us to go through and be prepared for. It doesn’t mean we love any of these players less. We love them all just as much whether they’re with us or move on to something else with their lives.”

In determining the 2021 roster, the salary cap will play a key role in decisions such as this. As it stands now, Ryan will account for $40.9 million and Jones will take up $23 million against the salary cap in 2021. Any move made with one of the two players would probably be made after June 1, when the franchise can get some relief.

Even then, the Falcons will still be tasked with finding a suitor with enough cap space to take on what are otherwise sizable contracts.

While Blank is bullish on the roster having enough quality players to field a winning team next season, Falcons president Rich McKay, leading the charge on hiring the new coach and general manager, said he would wait for the new regime to evaluate the roster before offering an opinion.

“I don’t want to pre-judge that for those guys who are going to take those roles and be our principle football people,” McKay said. “I’ll let them assess it. I just know I’m thankful for the effort the players gave, the coaches gave in a most challenging year.”

For the Falcons, it has been a steady decline since reaching Super Bowl LI following the 2016 season. In 2017, the Falcons finished third in the NFC South but earned the No. 6 seed in the playoffs before being knocked out by the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round. In 2018 and 2019, the Falcons fielded rosters with heavy expectations but succumbed to 7-9 campaigns.

This year, the Falcons needed to reach the playoffs for former coach Dan Quinn and former general manager Thomas Dimitroff to keep their jobs. After a 0-5 start, Blank fired them both. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris took over coaching duties on an interim basis for the final 11 games, going 4-7 in the process.

“I think the team is better than a 4-12 record, there’s no question about that,” Blank said. “But it’s probably not better than 7-9 or 8-8 and that puts us back where we were the last two years. We can’t fool ourselves that we lost three or four games we shouldn’t have lost. Even with that being case, it’s not an acceptable level.”