Matt Ryan has done just about everything for the Falcons since he arrived in Atlanta, except win a Super Bowl, which is why some are questioning whether his lack of playoff success — even though he’s led the team there all but one season, he’s just 1-4 for his career in the postseason — warrants a big, long-term contract that the franchise will likely give him in the coming weeks.
FLOWERY BRANCH — During the past five years, the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan, gave him increasing responsibility in the offense — to the extent that he now owns the only set of keys — and made him the face of the franchise.
So now comes the greatest leap of all: the financial one.
As soon as the next few weeks, Ryan will be given the richest annual contract in franchise history. It will eclipse the one nine years ago that they gave to a starting quarterback, who subsequently dropped into a sinkhole. Now, nobody in the organization wishes to draw a parallel between Ryan and Michael Vick. But the reference points can't be avoided. In 2004, the year Vick was given a 10-year, $130 million contract, he was loved. He had ignited and (hard to believe now) united a jaded fan base like no athlete fans have ever seen. The residual of that contract is still glowing green somewhere, like nuclear waste.
The numbers in Ryan's contract extension also will be dizzying. He could become one of the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, with a deal in the neighborhood of six years and at least $120 million, based on other recent contracts given to top quarterbacks.
This is when someone might stop to ask: Have the Falcons seen enough to justify that?
Every quarterback in that salary bracket — Aaron Rodgers ($22 million per year), Joe Flacco ($20.1 million), Drew Brees ($20 million), Peyton Manning ($19.2 million) and Tom Brady ($18.5 million) — has won a Super Bowl. Flacco, who was taken 15 picks after Ryan in the 2008 draft, was the Super Bowl's MVP last season and was rewarded with a six-year, $120.6 million contract (which pays out $62 million in the first three years and likely will be restructured for cap purposes thereafter).
Ryan is 1-4 in playoff games. Flacco is 9-4. And here come the screams about comparable compensation.
Even with some postseason derailments and the backdrop of the Vick contract, the Falcons aren't hesitating with this deal, nor should they.
There is inherent risk in any long-term investment. Ask the Braves with Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. But barring implausible and unforeseen developments, like, say, four black-painted barns full of chained dogs in the woods behind a home in Surry County, Va., this investment should pay off.
“Any time you do a long-term contract, you spend a lot of time discussing it with the decision-makers in the organization,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “But this one hasn't taken a lot of conversation because we're very confident in what Matt can do for us, and we're encouraged by his evolution. We're in a good spot to go down this road.”
Question for the worrying masses: If you could trade Ryan for any quarterback in the NFL, who would it be? Understand, this exercise isn't a one-season debate, but rather a five-year one (given Ryan's minimum projected stay in Atlanta).
Rodgers and Brees should be considered givens. Flacco, based on last year's playoff run, also should get the edge, even if he has benefited from a better defense in Baltimore than Ryan has had.
Brady and Manning will be Hall of Famers. But Brady is nearing 36 and Manning is 37. Eli Manning is often criticized, but he has won two Super Bowls. Would the results be different if Ryan played for the New York Giants and Eli for the Falcons? Would you take Ben Roethlisberger and his personal baggage over Ryan, or are his two title rings largely the result of Pittsburgh's defense and coaching?
No matter how you rank Ryan against those other seven quarterbacks, that's going to be a small group north of him in a 32-team league.
“Obviously there's a group of people who are going to say, ‘You haven't won a Super Bowl, you haven't done anything,’ ” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “That's their right to think that way. But the way I think about it is: OK, for anybody who thinks their quarterback is not good enough, and you're talking about the best 20 quarterbacks in the world, who are you going to replace him with?”
Koetter, coming off his first season working with Ryan, then added, “He's way above and beyond what I thought. If you knew you were going to draft a quarterback, the intangible side of Matt Ryan is what you're looking for. The way he is with his teammates, the coaches, the media. He knows when to buckle down and when to have fun. He knows on a player's day off, when everybody else is home, that he's going to be locked into a meeting room, getting ready for the week. Not a lot of guys have that.”
It's a financial leap the Falcons need to take.