The extension leaves the Falcons in a pretty good long-term financial situation, accord to Andrew Brandt, a former negotiator for the Green Bay Packers who currently is a sports financial analyst for mmqb.si.com and ESPN.
“If you can manage the deal cap-wise, you can certainly build a team around it,” Brandt said. “They seem to be a team that’s willing to build with young players. As long as you can balance your elite contracts like this, with a lot of rookie contracts, you can do that. You can’t just have a team of veteran contracts.”
That’s why the Falcons shed some veteran contracts over the past two seasons. After the 2011 season, they were not able to keep middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and fullback Ovie Mughelli. Shortly after the 2012 season, they released veterans Michael Turner, John Abraham, Dunta Robinson and Tyson Clabo to make room for Ryan’s contract.
Ryan sat quietly by this offseason as Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, Dallas’ Tony Romo, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford all signed hefty new contracts.
“It’s hard to miss,” Ryan said. “You see it. You do, but it’s … something that I didn’t lose sleep over (and was not) glued to the TV watching. I’ve always had the belief that if you’re worried about the things that are important, the other things kind of take care of themselves.”
Ryan rejuvenated the Falcons franchise almost immediately after he was drafted with the third pick of the 2008 NFL draft. The team was coming off the disastrous 2007 season that saw quarterback Michael Vick sent to jail on federal dogfighting charges and coach Bobby Petrino bolt before the season ended.
“The franchise was at a crossroads,” owner Arthur Blank said. “We had made a number of turns, some of which didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped at that time.”
Under Blank’s ownership, the franchise has not been afraid to spend cash. In 2004, he made Vick the highest-paid player in the league with a 10-year, $130 million contract.
He didn’t hesitate to pay Ryan “franchise” quarterback money.
“In every sense of the word, in every definition, and every profile, Matt is a franchise quarterback,” Blank said. “It’s always been our philosophy to reward players for performance. … He will be a leader for us for many years to come.”
Before the 2008 draft, the Falcons contemplated selecting Ryan or LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. The braintrust settled on Ryan and never looked back.
“Suffice it to say, I think we’re all glad that we didn’t go defensive tackle with the third pick of the first round back in 2008,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “I’m excited to have Matt on board for many years to come.”
Ryan had a year left on his original six-year contract, and now he’s tied to the team through the 2018 season. The Falcons have plans to play in a new stadium in 2017.
“I’ve always not worried about the business side of it,” Ryan said. “I really think as a player, if you’re hung up or you’re worried about that, or if you’re worried about spending your time thinking about all of those things, you’re taking (time) away from what you should be doing.”
Ryan doesn’t believe that the new deal puts additional pressure on him to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
“The expectations that we set for ourselves as a football team and myself personally are higher than what everybody else is going to put on us,” Ryan said. “My goal and my mindset has been the same since 2008. It’s about winning a championship. It’s about getting rings.”
In 2012, he set single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,719), pass attempts (615), completions (422), touchdown passes (32) and 300-yard games (7) en route to his second career Pro Bowl selection.
Ryan’s 56 career wins are the most by any quarterback in his first five seasons in NFL history.
With another stellar season, Ryan could become the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdown passes. Ryan needs 27 more to tie Steve Bartkowski’s mark of 154. Ryan has thrown 32, 29 and 28 touchdown passes in each of the past three seasons.
Blank had some parting shots for Ryan, too.
“I’ll be having a private meeting a little later tonight with Matt to talk to him about becoming an investor in our stadium,” Blank quipped. “I’ll give him the opportunity of doing that or maybe talking about the naming rights deal for the new stadium.”