Matt Ryan will no longer be the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons after the 36-year-old agreed to be traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The decision brings to an end a tenure that began in 2008 but concluded with the Falcons making a very public but ultimately forlorn play for Deshaun Watson.
Ryan will now join the Colts in a deal that will send a third-round pick in this year’s draft to Atlanta in compensation. The swap was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Dianna Russini and Chris Mortensen on Monday, March 21:
It was the final day for the Falcons to make a decision on Ryan, who was due a roster bonus worth $7.5 million if he was still with the team at 4 p.m. ET.
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Ryan’s Fate Determined by Watson Pursuit
The Falcons hardly hid their pursuit of Watson. They were one of four teams, along with the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns, who pitched the quarterback on leaving the Houston Texans.
Watson chose the Browns, immediately putting Ryan’s future into firm focus. There had been a report from Schefter and Mortensen that Ryan knew about the interest in Watson, but Ryan’s sister-in-law, Maggie Marshall Ryan, refuted this information:
Ryan not knowing, or at least being caught off guard, by the Falcons’ attempts to land Watson made his own trade inevitable.
Falcons Paying a Heavy Price for Watson Failure
It’s no surprise Ryan likely felt alienated somewhat after seeing the only team he’s played for in the pros actively try and recruit his replacement. The response from the third-overall pick in 2008 has been swift. It’s also put the Falcons in a financial bind.
Trading Ryan means the Falcons now take on a significant amount of dead cap from the veteran’s previous contract. The figure, as well as the scale of the Falcons’ post-Watson unravelling, were spelled out by Pro Football Focus analyst Brad Spielberger:
More context no Falcons fan will enjoy reading was provided by Spotrac:
That’s not good company to keep for a franchise with a litany of holes to fill on the roster. The most gaping is at football’s most important position.
Sans Ryan, the Falcons’ only quarterback is Feleipe Franks, a former undrafted free agent who has also played tight end. It’s no wonder running back Cordarrelle Patterson is already looking for new ways to show off his versatility:
Patterson may only be half joking.
Finding a credible quarterback has to be the fist priority for adjusting to life without Ryan. It won’t be easy during a year when both the veteran market and draft class offer only slim pickings.
The paucity of options has already led to the Falcons being linked with a backup who has ties to Smith, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo:
Marcus Mariota would surely only be a short-term answer, but the truth is any quarterback who immediately follows Ryan is likely to struggle. There’s a shortage of quality wide receivers, while the offensive line remains suspect at best.
The line allowed 40 sacks and a ton of pressure last season. A lack of credible targets to aim for was also a problem for Ryan, and that won’t change for the next guy now Calvin Ridley is suspended for violating the league’s gambling policy. Meanwhile, Russell Gage, Atlanta’s leading wideout a year ago, joined NFC South rival the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.
It’s going to take some smart bargain hunting and shrewd drafting by general manager Terry Fontenot to put even a remotely convincing supporting cast around whoever replaces Ryan.