The sun hasn't set on the Matt Ryan era in Atlanta, but there is a sense that twilight draws near. Ryan's 14th year in the league just came to a close in January. He has two years left on his current contract. If it isn't touched during that time period, Ryan will be a free agent in 2024. So, no, the sun hasn't gone down yet, but the twilight years have arrived, and owner Arthur Blank understands that.
"At some point, there will be a sunset for him," Blank told AtlantaFalcons.com on Wednesday, "but exactly when that is I really can't tell you because I really don't know."
Blank went on to say he doesn't even know for sure that Ryan knows exactly when that time will come, but Blank did reiterate that "at some point, it will become clear that (the Falcons) need to move forward."
That time - in the owner's mind it seems - hasn't arrived yet.
Blank said he felt like Ryan had "another typical Matt Ryan year." He was productive in a new system and did what he could under the circumstances, not having "his whole host of receivers" and being hit the amount of times he was in the pocket. Blank added he thinks Ryan may be in better shape now than he was when the Falcons drafted him back in 2008.
All of that aside, though, Ryan himself has stated a number of times that he loves Atlanta and would like to stay as long as he can. He often uses the analogy that players rent their lockers. He's not looking to step away from that temporary home just yet, and that's obvious to Blank. Ultimately, though, what happens with Ryan and the path he ultimately takes in the twilight years of his career is up to Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith now.
"(Ryan) loves the game. He loves the Falcons. He loves the city and he wants to stay here," Blank said. "That's a decision the coach and general manager will make. But we have no reason to think he won't continue to be playing quarterback for us."
However, Blank as much as anyone is realistic about Ryan's future. At 36 years old, it's realistic to think Ryan could be looking at a possible retirement when this contract ends, or - even more likely - a short stint somewhere else if not with the Falcons. Brady retired at 44, Brees at 42 and Big Ben at 39. In 2024, Ryan will be 38. And for Fontenot and Smith, they're looking to build something that lasts beyond 2024. And perhaps that's why Blank said what he did next.
"Great franchises have a successful transition from one quarterback to the next," Blank said. "We want to make sure we're focused on doing the same thing. Coach understands that and so does our general manager."
And with this in mind, it's beginning to look like a succession plan could be dawning in Atlanta soon.
Matt Ryan continued to build up his legacy with his 14th season, and we were there for every highlight along the way.
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