Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons had the No. 4 overall pick and several mock drafts projected they would turn to one of the many elite quarterback options that this year’s class had to offer.
Many critics questioned this move, but not first-year general manager for the Falcons, Terry Fontenot. The former New Orleans Saints scout clearly knew what he was getting in Ryan before taking the job, but caught an even closer glimpse at the Future Hall of Famer once he stepped foot in Flowery Branch with a new title.
“On the outside you just have the game tape,” Fontenot said during an interview with AtlantaFalcons.com Scott Bair. “Being inside the building, you also see the practice tape and the human element. Being around Matt, you see who he is as the leader, the worker, where his mindset is and how he feels he has a chip on his shoulder and that he has something to prove. Knowing not just that he has the physical talent to do it, but that he has the right mindset to be the same leader of men. That passion you see on the sidelines — when you’re in the building with him you see it 24/7. It doesn’t stop. It really doesn’t stop.
“The film evaluation, whether it’s in a game or in practice, shows where he is. So does the mindset, the passion, the intensity that makes him the man that he is. It checks all the boxes. He’s the right leader of this team.”
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The Falcons Are “Always” Looking
Just because the Falcons passed on their future franchise quarterback, doesn’t mean they aren’t not constantly searching.
“We like our quarterback room, but we’re always going to be looking,” Fontenot said. “Whether it’s this year or next year, in the draft or through trades, we’re always going to be looking to bring in quarterbacks. That doesn’t change at all. Just because you don’t take one in the first round doesn’t mean you can’t find the right future guy.”
Due to a contract restructure, the Falcons are technically stuck with Ryan until at least 2023. But according to Fontenot and Ryan himself, that’s not such a bad thing.
“With all that being said, we hope that future is way down the road. If you’re talking to Matt, he’s going to say, ‘Slow down. I’ve got lots of time left.'”
Behind Ryan, the Falcons have AJ McCarron and rookie Feleipe Franks.
Why Ryan Makes Sense Under Head Coach Arthur Smith
Ryan, 36, is entering his 14th season in the NFL as Atlanta’s starting quarterback. Just this past season, Ryan continued to play at a high level. He threw for 4,581 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and led the league in passing attempts and completions last season
But aside from the money and contract aspect, the Falcons keeping Ryan as their starter makes sense because of their new head coach in former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith.
Smith will be running a similar offense to when 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan was the Falcons’ OC in 2016. That season, Ryan completed 69.9% of his passes for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He was named MVP and led the Falcons to a Super Bowl (no need to recap).
Smith is coming off two notable seasons as the Titans offensive coordinator where he was credited for turning quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s career around.
With Smith as the OC, Tannehill won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award and made the Pro Bowl in 2019. Tannehill’s success continued this past season as he posted a passer rating of 106.5 while leading the Titans to an 11-5 finish and playoff appearance.
Smith plans to bring the same approach he took in Tennessee to Atlanta.