Matt Ryan, franchise quarterback, didn’t know whom his franchise planned to draft in Round 1 until Roger Goodell spoke Kyle Pitts’ name on April 29. The Falcons’ new administration didn’t have a sit down — or even a Zoom session — with this team’s quarterback of 13 years to declare this club’s intentions re: him.
On Tuesday, speaking for the first time since the draft, Ryan fielded questions about what might have been had the Falcons taken Justin Fields, say, over a tight end from Florida. Ever the company man, Ryan drew a line of demarcation: “Those are not my calls, not under my job description. I leave that to those folks upstairs.”
Since the Falcons chose Ryan No. 3 overall in 2008, they’ve drafted one quarterback — Sean Renfree in Round 7 in 2013. As it happened, the tandem of general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith didn’t feel a need to pick one in any round of their first draft. But how did not knowing make the incumbent feel?
Said Ryan: “It didn’t really change my confidence level or my approach in any way. I always prepare every year as hard as I possibly can. I’ve always believed that people inside the building have great amount of belief in me, and I have a great amount of belief in myself. You can’t worry about it. You’ve got to stay focused and keep your mindset on things that are actually going to help you play well in the fall.”
Then: “Their job as GM and head coach is trying to find the kind of people who are going to help us win games … I have that belief that I’m the sort of person who’s going to help us win a lot of games.”
Then: “If you play well for long enough, these are conversations that are going to come up. I understand that I’m not going to play forever. I have the mindset that I’m still playing really well and have a lot of good football in front of me. But the most important thing to me comes from the belief in the building, from the people who are making these decisions. That’s where I try to keep it, though it’s harder now than ever to avoid the noise.”
When a questioner referred to Ryan’s window of opportunity as limited, the man himself laughed. “It’s not THAT limited,” he said. “I got a guy in the division — he’s a little longer in the tooth than I am.” (Note: Tom Brady won his second and third Super Bowls for New England while Ryan was a Boston College student.)
Someone else wondered if, had Fontenot/Smith informed Ryan they indeed planned to draft a quarterback in Round 1, how he might have taken it (Aaron Rodgers remains miffed that Green Bay picked Jordan Love in Round 1 in 2020 without so much as a heads-up to the would-be “Jeopardy” host.) Said Ryan: “I don’t know. It didn’t happen, so I can’t really answer it honestly.”
Then: “I understand that that’s part of this business. It’s not easy. It gets magnified at the quarterback position because everything does. But this happens to guys every year, every week, in our league. People are brought in to try to replace you that are cheaper, that are younger, and it’s your responsibility as a player to try not to let that happen. I don’t know what I’d have done. Maybe that will happen at some point in the future, but it hasn’t happened.”
Did Ryan take a pre-draft moment to prepare himself for the possibility that he’d be seeing Fields or Mac Jones in quarterback meetings next season?
“I think you always do. You never know when there’s transition what’s going to happen. You have to go prove it with the way you work, prove it on the field, earn their respect. I’m still in the process of doing that. I’m in a fortunate position where I’ve got a body of work for them to look at, but I still have to do that every day. You’re constantly having that talk with yourself, whether it’s Year 1 or 14 or whatever year it is. You’re constantly trying to prove you’re the right person for this spot. I was told from a young age by some veteran players in that locker room, ‘You don’t own the locker. You rent it.’ "
He smiled. “I try and pay my rent on time all the time and do the best I can do to stay in that spot.”
The thought of the Falcons launching any QB succession plan has been tabled, at least for the moment. There’s no pressure from within, which isn’t to say there’s no pressure. This is the NFL. Ryan has been the franchise quarterback from the moment he first entered the brick building at 4400 Falcon Parkway. He turned 36 on Monday. He remains the franchise quarterback.
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