The Atlanta Falcons have reportedly signed Matt Ryan to a $150 million extension and are looking towards the future by building off of this season’s success. If they cannot rebuild, what will be their path forward?
The “who will replace matt ryan” is a question that has been asked for a while now. The Atlanta Falcons have made it clear that they do not want to rebuild, and instead are looking at a “transition” year.
The Atlanta Falcons recognized Wednesday that they are in the middle of an organization-wide makeover, just days after selling away franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.
While both general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith avoided using the phrase “rebuilding,” Fontenot did admit that the club is “taking it on the chin this year” in terms of dead money.
After the trade that sent Ryan to the Colts on Monday and the 2021 deal with the Titans that sent former star receiver Julio Jones to Tennessee, Atlanta faces dead-money costs of roughly $62 million.
The Falcons, on the other hand, do not see it as a rebuilding project. “It’s not something we ever want to say,” Fontenot added. Regardless of how the Falcons’ leadership wants to categorize it, the team is obviously entering a period of change.
“I’m not sure what coach would tell his players, ‘Hey guys, we’re rebuilding,’” Smith said. “I realize where we’re at — we’re in the middle of something.” And there are some things in the NFL that you are continuously rebuilding. Your roster is always changing from year to year.
“It’s more of a team mindset among the players and coaches who compete every day here. So I’m assuming you’re talking about the larger picture, which I’m not discounting. But I’m just referring to your responsibilities in the National Football League: our goal is to win football games.”
The Falcons demonstrated this most clearly at quarterback, where they sold Ryan, signed 2015 No. 2 selection Marcus Mariota, and explored a trade for Deshaun Watson.
The Falcons, who traded Ryan for a third-round selection, claimed the 14-year veteran was engaged in discussions regarding his possible trade, which included enabling him to speak with other teams and suggest prospective destinations.
Fontenot said that Atlanta pondered dealing Ryan before the opportunity to acquire Watson arose, and that if they did decide to trade the former MVP, they wanted him to have a voice in the process, even if it meant receiving less money than the Falcons may have received elsewhere.
Fontenot said, “We could have had a long procedure and marketed him and gone through this and traded him someplace he didn’t want to go.” “We did, however, discuss it. If we’re going to continue down this route, we want to make sure Matt is taken care of. And he needs to be a part of it.”
Smith also expressed enthusiasm at working with Mariota, who joined the Falcons only hours after Ryan was traded. Mariota had worked with Smith in Tennessee as the offensive coordinator in 2019, the same year he was relegated to a backup position behind Ryan Tannehill.
“Both him and I have made a lot of progress,” Smith added. “I mean, [Mariota and Tannehill] are very different athletes, but Ryan Tannehill was in the same circumstance when he arrived.” Marcus, like Ryan, is a high-end player who was drafted first overall and is at a different stage of his career.
“I have faith in Marcus, and I know he’ll come in here and give us all he’s got. He has a high-level skill and is well-versed in the events of the past. He’s learnt from them, as have I, and you’re ecstatic about the possibility.”
Fontenot, on the other hand, believes the Falcons will acquire at least one more quarterback, either via free agency or the draft next month. The only ones on the roster right now are Mariota and second-year pro Feleipe Franks.
“We’re not going to reach and accomplish something that we’re not enthused about,” Fontenot said. The Falcons went to Malik Willis’ pro day at Liberty on Tuesday, and they intend to go to Matt Corral’s pro day at Ole Miss and Desmond Ridder’s pro day at Cincinnati this week.
While the Falcons may have been contemplating trading Ryan before getting engaged in the Watson trade negotiations, the public nature of their pursuit made it evident that they were interested in doing so.
Fontenot and Smith refused to reveal if they talked with any of the 22 women who have filed lawsuits against Watson in Harris County, Texas, alleging anything from sexual assault to improper behavior, or with their attorney, Tony Buzbee. They also refused to reveal if any of the 22 complaints had been read. On Sunday, Buzbee informed ESPN that he had not talked to any NFL clubs.
Smith said, “We’re not going to delve into our procedure.” “In any hypothetical deals with any potential player, we would not. We recognize the gravity of your concerns, but we cannot comment on a pending civil lawsuit.”
When the Falcons looked into Watson, though, Fontenot said the team’s decision-makers “made a collective choice” to “investigate” a trade for him. The Falcons never thought they’d have Watson in Atlanta for sure, according to Fontenot.
It wouldn’t have been as easy as Watson announcing he wanted to play for the Falcons if he had chosen Atlanta, Fontenot said, since it would have been “such a complicated process” that would have entailed talks with the Texans and “more investigating.”
Atlanta, on the other hand, did not land Watson, instead dealing Ryan and obtaining Mariota, laying the groundwork for a change that team leadership had anticipated.
“Our mission is to avoid being in this type of limbo,” Smith added. “We’re going to do things the proper way this time. This year, we’re going to be competitive. Nobody is saying rebuild as a squad or as a coach, so that’s our duty.”
The “matt ryan 2022” is a rumor that the Atlanta Falcons rejected. The team’s front office has been talking about building on their current roster and not rebuilding, which would mean they’re looking to win in 2018.
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