Moving on from Matt Ryan was never an easy decision for the Falcons and owner Arthur Blank.
Trading Ryan hurt Blank personally, but from a team standpoint, he believed that it was the right thing for the Falcons to do to be successful.
Blank pointed out that on most Super-Bowl winning teams in the last 20 years, the starting quarterback had not amounted to more than around 12 percent of the team's salary cap. Tom Brady has the two highest cap hits of quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl with 12.61 percent of the Buccaneers' cap in 2021 and 12.42 of the Patriots cap in 2018, per Spotrac. Ryan's scheduled $48.6 million cap hit in 2022 would have counted for 23 percent of the Falcons salary cap.
"It does take other players to win. It's not like golf," Blank said. "You have to have a team around you. You've got to have an offensive line to keep you standing vertical as opposed to horizontal. You got to have receivers; you got to have a running back, you got to have you got to have a defense that can stay on and compete."
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There is also the element of Ryan's age.
Ryan, 36, said in his introductory press conference with the Colts that he feels "really good" and not like an "old man," but he has been in the league for fourteen years and statistically had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2021.
But Ryan's numbers don't tell the entire story.
The Falcons' offense was constantly changing as players battled injuries, and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts was his No. 1 target. Many would say Ryan maximized the players around him, but even that point is accurate, and that Ryan may still have some great years ahead of him, Blank is looking toward the organization's long-term future.
"It's not always about the next 12 months," Blank said. "It's about, you know, can you transition your organization to the next 15 years? And add another version of Matt Ryan. … This is not like checkers, you can't play at 100 years old, and Matt will be 37 in May."
By prioritizing the Falcons' future and moving Ryan, the Falcons will reportedly take on the highest dead cap hit in NFL history at $40.525 million. It's a big hit that the Falcons will have to take "on the chin," as Terry Fontenot put it last week, but ultimately not having Ryan on the books next season allows the Falcons to become big spenders in the 2023 offseason.
OverTheCap projects the Falcons to have close to $110 million in salary-cap space next year, the third-highest in the NFL.
The significant cap space will help the Falcons lure top free agents and keep some of their top players, which Blank thinks is most important. Losing players like De'Vondre Campbell, Alex Mack, and Foye Oluokun because the Falcons couldn't afford to keep them still hurt Blank.
"It's like growing children," Blank said. "You draft them, you bring them up, and you coach them, you get them ready, and when they're age seven, you have to let them go. Well, that's never a good feeling. So I think we'll be in a much better position to be able to extend our own players, and that's what really good franchises do. They're able to be in a coaching, evaluation position, and a cap position with extended players that they really want to keep."
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