Falcons finally address Deshaun Watson fiasco, trade of Matt Ryan

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Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith discuss the trade of long-time QB Matt Ryan to the Colts. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter)

After trading Matt Ryan, the greatest player in franchise history, on Monday, the Falcons finally publicly discussed Wednesday how they arrived at the decision and why they took such meek compensation.

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When the trade was made, the team issued glowing statements after they considered trading for Deshaun Watson, who’s facing 22 civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct.

When the attempt to trade for Watson failed Friday, Ryan was allowed to meet with the Colts coaching staff Saturday. The deal, which will leave the Falcons with $60 million in dead salary-cap space, was made Monday.

» Click here to watch a replay of the Falcons’ news conference

“Based on the information we had, we wanted to explore (a trade for Watson),” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said during a virtual news conference.

The Falcons would not say if they contacted the lawyers for the women who made the allegations against Watson.

“We’re not going to get into, you know, our process,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We understood the seriousness (of the civil cases).”

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The Falcons had been noncommittal when discussing Ryan over the offseason, but they got involved in the Watson situation after he was not indicted on criminal charges in Harris County, Texas.

The Falcons ended up with a third-round draft choice for Ryan, a former NFL MVP and one of two quarterbacks to take the Falcons to the Super Bowl.

“Matt Ryan has been the consummate professional here,” Smith said. “He means a lot to this franchise. He had 14 great years, and I’m very thankful for the year I got to spend with Matt.”

The Falcons had been contemplating trading Ryan and his contract.

“We obviously made this decision in the best interest of the franchise going forward,” Smith said. “We feel really good. As Matt probably reiterated yesterday, it was very amicable. We feel like it was a win for both sides. For us in the long term and for Matt right now.”

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The Falcons knew the compensation for Ryan, who will turn 37 in May, was less than desirable. The Texans received three first-round picks and more for Watson. The Seahawks also received a massive haul from Denver in the Russell Wilson trade.

The Seahawks received three players, two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a fifth-round selection for Wilson and a 2022 fourth-round pick.

“We wanted him to be involved in that,” Fontenot said.

Because Ryan was involved, there wasn’t an open market.

“We would never trade him somewhere and he knows nothing about it and we’re just trying to maximize value,” Fontenot said. “(One in which) we go through some strung-out process and try to squeeze out all the compensation that we can. We were never going to do that with Matt. ... He deserves the right, he’s earned the right, to be involved.”

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Ryan liked what he heard from the Colts and gave the Falcons his blessing to make the trade.

“He was involved in this whole process,” Fontenot said. “Arthur was great in communicating with him on a daily basis. We wanted him to communicate with the team. It was more important for us to let Matt be involved in it and get Matt somewhere where he wanted to be as opposed to just trying to maximize the value.”

The trade left the Falcons with a $40.5 million cap hit, the largest in NFL history. The Falcons will carry over $60 million in dead salary-cap space under the $208.2 million salary cap.

A third-round pick and getting out from under Ryan’s contract was enough for the new administration to feel good about the trade moving forward.

“It’s an exciting time,” Fontenot said. “We’re looking at the future. ... So, we’re going to work as hard as we can. I know we have the staff here. Everyone here in Flowery Branch is really putting in the work right now.”

“We obviously made this decision in the best interest of the franchise going forward. We feel really good. As Matt probably reiterated yesterday, it was very amicable. We feel like it was a win for both sides. For us in the long term and for Matt right now."

- Falcons coach Arthur Smith, on the Matt Ryan trade

The Falcons hold the eighth overall pick in the draft and are heavily scouting the quarterbacks. The draft is set for April 28-30.

They were set to scout Ole Miss’ Matt Corral on Wednesday and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder on Thursday. Earlier this week, they scouted Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis, who played at Westlake High and Roswell High.

“In the college process, we’re right in the middle of that right now,” Fontenot said. “Our college scouts have just been hitting the road hard. We’ll be at Pro Days and personal workouts really for the rest of this month.”

The quarterback class is not highly regarded by most draft analysts.

“It’s an exciting class,” Fontenot said. “We’re going to dig into the class.”

The Falcons agreed to terms with quarterback Marcus Mariota on a two-year contract.

“We’re excited about Marcus Mariota, and we’re going to continue to add to that (quarterback meeting) room, and whether we’re talking about free agents, trades (or the) draft,” Fontenot said. “We’re going to continue to add to that room, and yet we’re excited that Marcus is here.”

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