Matt Ryan is still a highly competent NFL quarterback, no matter what his critics might say. Ryan’s also costing the Atlanta Falcons, a franchise still firmly in rebuild mode, a fortune over the next two years.
The Washington Commanders need a quarterback. They also have the salary cap space the Falcons lack, space enough to accommodate a franchise passer.
Could Ryan end up in a Commanders uniform next season? Washington head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew are certainly prepared to cast a wide-enough net, so anything’s possible.
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One notable Commanders writer has discussed the chances of Ryan joining Rivera, what it might cost, and what would need to happen for the Falcons to dump their signal-caller ahead of schedule.
Ryan’s Cost a Problem
The Athletic’s Commanders senior writer Ben Standig recently gave his opinion on Ryan moving to Washington: “His massive salary-cap hits make dealing him unlikely unless the Falcons decide they are fully committing to a rebuild. My sense is they are not, though they could grab a QB-of-the-future with their first-round pick, the eighth selection. Rivera certainly knows Ryan from his NFC South days and would surely explore that route if available.”
There’s no doubt Ryan’s hefty salary the next two seasons will leave a lot of suitors cold. He’s set to account for $48,662,500 against this year’s cap, according to Spotrac.com. The same source noted how Ryan’s cap hit for 2023 will total $43,612,500.
Even restructuring Ryan’s terms won’t work, per NFL Rumors:
In terms of cap space, the Commanders are in a healthy position for a quarterback search. They are projected to have $30,354,046 to spare.
Money may not be an issue, but timing might. The Falcons would need to pick just the right moment if they decided to move on from Ryan.
A right moment would depend on any trade partner taking on part of Ryan’s cap hit. The minutiae was explained by Dean Worley of Falcons Wire back in December: “It is possible to trade him before or after June 1, but for the trade to work in Atlanta’s favor, the other team would need to take part of his cap hit, which would also lessen the compensation the Falcons would get in return.”
Another option has been spelled out by Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine: “They’d have a dead cap hit of $40.5 million if they cut or trade him before June 1. They could trim that dead cap hit to $24.9 million if they designate him a post-June 1 cut or trade.”
All of this adds up to Ryan probably not making his way to Washington. The only way that might change is because of a bumper trade offer, something Standig believes the Commanders could put together this offseason.
‘Almost Anyone’ Available for QB-Needy Franchise
Standig was asked if the Commanders would consider offering Chase Young as trade bait for the right quarterback. The writer hedged his bets somewhat but still made it clear Washington will be aggressive in pursuit of a marquee passer: “I think almost anyone on the roster is available if the result is Washington improving at quarterback. In Young’s case, that would mean the Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson level.”
The phrase “almost anybody” might include Young, although Standig didn’t say so, a player who could interest the Falcons. Young was taken second overall in the 2020 NFL draft, but the defensive end took a step back before injury struck last season.
His downturn was noticed by many, including Empire Sports Media founder Alex Wilson:
Despite the regression, Young is still considered a potentially awesome pass-rusher. That’s something the Falcons need after logging a league-low 18 sacks in 2021.
There are other pass-rushers on the Commanders’ roster who may be more realistic targets at this stage. Players like edge defender Montez Sweat or defensive tackles Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis.
It seems more likely the Commanders will have to look elsewhere. It’s also likely the Falcons will follow another piece of Standig’s advice.
Falcons Can Draft Ryan’s Heir Apparent & Wait
In another look at the Commanders’ QB situation from February 11, Standig outlined how the Falcons can keep Ryan and still prepare for life without him. His scenario involved the 2022 NFL draft: “They hold the eighth pick in the upcoming draft, and sitting behind Ryan would be ideal for Liberty QB Malik Willis, an Atlanta native.”
The idea has merit, but Falcons’ general manager Terry Fontenot may not want to use a top-10 pick on a rookie who would start life in the pros as a backup. Not when the Falcons have so many other pressing needs, including the pass rush, offensive line, linebacker and wide receiver.
Fontenot would be more prudent finding a quarterback project outside the first round. NFL.com Draft Analyst Chad Reuter thinks the Falcons can find that help in the second round, in the form of Nevada’s Carson Strong.
Atlanta has options at quarterback and desperation isn’t motivating any of them, unlike the Commanders, who will likely pay a high price to acquire at least a Ryan-level starter.