ATLANTA — With training camp starting Monday, the Falcons must move swiftly to complete a $100 million-plus contract extension for quarterback Matt Ryan in order to avoid a potentially crippling in-season distraction.
Talks between the team and Matt Ryan’s agent, Tom Condon of Creative Arts Agency, are ongoing.
Bill Polian, former Indianapolis Colts general manager, has had dealings with Condon in the past and knows what the Falcons are facing.
“Tom Condon, based on my experience with (negotiating) Peyton Manning’s contracts, is a notoriously tough bargainer, and I say that with respect,” said Polian on Sirius XM radio recently. “The likelihood is that they won’t reach a deal in the summer months. In which case, you will have to play it out.”
Both the Falcons and Condon have declined to discuss the negotiations.
Under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons have made it a priority to work out contract extensions for key players including defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (2008), receivers Michael Jenkins (2008) and Roddy White (2009) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (2011).
White did hold out for eight days of training camp to get a deal.
“We’re always going to be an organization that rewards players for being productive on the field and good citizens off of it,” Dimitroff said at the conclusion of White’s holdout.
Ryan clearly fits the description.
He has led the Falcons to unprecedented regular-season success (56-22) and had them 10 yards away from their second Super Bowl appearance last season.
As far as citizenship, he hasn’t even received a jaywalking ticket.
The Falcons have been planning for Ryan’s big deal for the past two seasons.
In part because of the salary cap room needed for a franchise-quarterback deal, they didn’t retain their leading tackler linebacker Curtis Lofton after the 2011 season.
After the 2012 season, the team had to part ways with expensive veterans in running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham, cornerback Dunta Robinson and right tackle Tyson Clabo.
Condon represents several of the league’s top quarterbacks, including Peyton and Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III and Philip Rivers.
Stafford, the former Georgia standout, recently signed a three-year, $53 million contract extension with Detroit.
“I expected Ryan to get done before Stafford because Stafford had two years left and Ryan has a year left,” said Andrew Brandt, former Green Bay Packers executive and current director of the Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova University.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco (six years, $120.6 million) and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (five-year extension, $110 million) are the comparable contracts for Ryan.
A new deal for Ryan is projected to be worth $18 million to $22 million annually, by Joel Corry, a former agent who covers sports finances for the national footballpost.com and cbssports.com. Over six years, the total should be between $108 million to $132 million.
“Eighteen (million) is doable if Matt Ryan is the hometown, home-team discount type of guy,” said Corry, who received his finance degree at Emory.
Brandt, who’ll be a contributing writer on Peter King’s new football-only website TheMMQB.com, concentrates on the guaranteed money in the quarterback deals. He pointed out the guaranteed money that Peyton Manning ($60 million), Rodgers ($54) and Flacco ($52 million) received.
“I think he’ll be in that range,” Brandt said.
The Falcons are highly motivated to get a deal done.
“If they wait and everything goes according to plan with the new acquisitions of Steven Jackson, Osi Umenyiora and Tony Gonzalez coming back and that results in a Super Bowl. What are you looking at then?,” Corry said. “Matt Ryan could basically tell them to submit a blank contract at that point and he could fill in the numbers if that happens.”
Now, if they can’t strike a deal, Polian explains the doomsday scenario, which would unfold if the Falcons have to franchise tag Ryan and possibly end up using even more salary cap space. Thereby, it would be more difficult to sign and keep good players around him in the future.
“The CBA gives the player free agency, but it also gives the club the right to have the player complete his contract,” Polian said. “The two rights are equivalent.”
There isn’t a hard deadline.
“The agents are fond of trying to create the impression, particularly among the print media, that somehow if a player isn’t signed by the time he enters his work year, there is something wrong,” Polian said. “The club has done something wrong. That isn’t the case at all. The club is simply using the rights that the (collective bargaining agreement) gave to it, as is the player.”
While there isn’t a hard deadline, the start and the end of training camp are the key dates to focus on, Brandt said.
“I guess I would be surprised if it doesn’t happen by one of those two landmark dates because, then, I would think that it would be unlikely to happen before we get to the franchise tag period next year,” Brandt said.
If things drag out into the 2014 season, Dimitroff has used to franchise tag before. The Falcons used it most recently on cornerback Brent Grimes. They also tagged punter Michael Koenen in 2009.
“The club has the right to franchise a player at the end of his walk season,” Polian said. “I would think that based on my experience with Peyton Manning and Tom Condon, they might even have to franchise him before they get a deal done.
“But that’s the system. (There’s) nothing wrong with it. It’s business as usual. No need to worry about it.”