Falcons’ Head Coach Won’t Be Backed ‘Into a Corner’ Over Matt Ryan’s Future

Matt Ryan and Arthur Smith

Getty Arthur Smith hasn't ruled out accepting the right offer for Matt Ryan.

Arthur Smith still believes in Matt Ryan, but the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons has left the door open to accepting the right kind of offer for the veteran quarterback.

Smith discussed Ryan’s future ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine. While he endorsed Ryan, Smith’s backing came with a caveat, namely, the coach refusing to be backed “into a corner” if an offer came along the Falcons would find impossible to reject.

General manager Terry Fontenot joined Smith in keeping all options regarding Ryan on the table.

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Smith Sort Of Still Committed to Ryan

Ryan’s status is one of the hot topics for the Falcons this offseason. Smith was naturally asked about his quarterback when he arrived at the Combine.

The coach covered all the bases with his answer, per The Athletic’s Josh Kendall:

It’s hard to tell if Smith’s reference is a genuine invitation to potential suitors for Ryan. What is clear is how much Ryan’s future will continue to dominate the agenda. His age and contract situation put the issue into sharp focus.

Ryan’s 36 and carrying a significant cap hit the next two years, $48,662,500 for 2022 and $43,612,500 for ’23, according to Spotrac.com.

Restructuring his contract is one way for the Falcons to create space under this year’s salary cap. The franchise is currently $6,590,266 above the limit.

Fontenot addressed the numbers, and like Smith, he didn’t take any scenario regarding Ryan off the table. Speaking on an episode of Audacy.com’s The Game 92.9 podcast, Fontenot told The Midday Show with Andy & Randy about Ryan’s contract: “($48 Million) is obviously a big number, and it’s not Matt’s fault that that number is that big. We appreciate Matt and everything (since) he’s been here. We’re not going to talk specifically about our plans for any player on this roster… But, we have a lot of decisions we’re going to have to make this offseason.”

Those “decisions” could be influenced by what the Falcons decide to do in the 2022 NFL draft.

Drafting a QB Still a Possibility

Fontenot made sure to make it clear the Falcons are performing due diligence on the quarterbacks in this year’s class, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

It doesn’t look like an ideal moment to go hunting for a rookie passer. The crop isn’t considered to be overly rich in talent, but there are still options the Falcons might pursue.

One of those options is Nevada’s Carson Strong, who would make a good “developmental backup” for Ryan, according to Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports. Strong isn’t the only potential stop-gap QB the Falcons could select.

There’s Liberty’s dual-threat playmaker Malik Willis, chosen for the Falcons at No. 8 by Sports Illustrated‘s Zack Patraw. Willis also happens to be the choice for CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson.

Wilson believes Willis would sit for a year and give the Falcons more flexibility regarding Ryan in 2023. It makes sense given Willis is a raw prospect, but as PFF detailed, he showed a flair for big plays at the collegiate level:

Letting a first-year signal-caller sit for a season would be smart considering how difficult it will be to move Ryan on this offseason. The Falcons ought to wait until after June 1 if they opt to cut or trade Ryan, per Jeff Schultz of The Athletic. That would be the best way to spread the cost of any dead money over the next two years.

Smith and Fontenot know they have options and aren’t ready to close any avenues just yet. It’s more likely, though, that Ryan starts another season for the Falcons. He’s still playing at a reasonably high level and his presence gives the Falcons the most stable quarterback situation in the NFC South.

It’s also unlikely any of the quarterback-needy teams around the league make the kind of offer Smith couldn’t refuse. Not when the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson could all be on the market.