Matt Ryan’s position as the Atlanta Falcons‘ starting quarterback appears secure, but that could change if the franchise decides to free up some room under the salary cap.
Ryan carries a significant cap hit this year and next, something the Falcons may want to offset sooner rather than later. It would provide general manager Terry Fontenot with the resources to address the many other needs on the roster, including the offensive line, pass rush, wide receiver and linebacker.
Parting ways with Ryan would leave the Falcons needing a quick fix at quarterback for 2022. This NFL draft class is hardly overflowing with Day 1 starters, but one free agent from an NFC South rival could fit the bill as the ideal stop-gap successor for Ryan.
Injured Saints’ Starter an Option
Raiding the New Orleans Saints for short-term quarterback help is an idea posited by Falcons Wire writer Deen Worley. He’s named Jameis Winston among the “bridge” quarterbacks who would give the Falcons options regarding Ryan’s future.
Worley noted how former draft bust Winston revived his career once he swapped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the Saints: “Winston has always been talented, but his high turnover rate became an issue. He repaired that image to some degree in New Orleans, and he still has the skill set to lead a team to victory. Winston led the Saints to four wins before he tore his ACL against the Bucs in Week 5.”
It’s true Winston didn’t waste his second chance once he moved to New Orleans. He had previously flattered to deceive after being drafted first overall by the Bucs in 2015.
Yards weren’t a problem, but Winston never shook a penchant for interceptions. He threw 88 picks in four seasons before the Buccaneers turned to Tom Brady in 2020.
One season on the Saints’ bench followed before Winston stepped up last season following Drew Brees’ retirement. Winston threw 14 touchdowns in just seven starts, pacing the league in one category, per NFL on CBS:
Just as important as the touchdowns, Winston kept the interceptions to a minimum. He threw only three and posted a QB rating of 102.8 before a knee injury against his former team in Week 8 ended his season prematurely.
A torn ACL and damaged MCL were the net results of the injury. It’s a serious ailment, but Winston already appears well on the road to a full recovery.
He recently posted a workout video to showcase his current level of mobility:
The timing is no coincidence ahead of free agency in a year when Winston headlines the available veteran class. Whether the Falcons will be a suitor will depend largely on when they decide to address Ryan’s future.
Ryan Exit Plan is Complicated
Ryan looks set thanks to a hefty contract the Falcons will have trouble offloading this year. He’s set to count for $48,662,500 against the cap this offseason, according to Spotrac.com. The same source also shows Ryan’s cap hit is $43,612,500 for 2023.
Dumping the contract or even extending it would create more room for a franchise currently $1,923,598 over the cap. The first option is tricky because of the timing.
After June 1 is the key period, with Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine noting how cutting or trading Ryan after that date would only carry a dead cap hit worth $24.9 million.
It’s a tough juggling act, but the Falcons might be tempted if they can slot in a low-cost free agent to replace 36-year-old Ryan in the short term. The presence of an established passer like Winston would also give the Falcons time to develop a rookie quarterback or wait until the college crop offers more riches a year from now.
Whatever the choice, owner Arthur Blank has made it clear the Falcons are thinking about what life without Ryan will look like, per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein:
Making a move for a veteran like Winston would show the Falcons are accelerating their “succession plan” for Ryan.