Matt Ryan was mere minutes removed from completing his 14th season as Falcons quarterback when asked about the prospect of a 15th.
Yeah. It happened that fast.
It happened even with two years left on his contract and massive amounts of dead money associated with moving him before the 2022 campaign.
Will Ryan be Falcons quarterback next season?
The questions were fair. So was head coach Arthur Smith's answer, which was non-committal.
"Matt knows how we feel about him, but you're not going to get a hot take from me today to ever back ourselves into a corner," Smith said in his Sunday night press conference. "I don't care -- everything is evaluated every year, and that's the way it goes in the NFL. To make a grand statement right after a game -- we're all on the same page."
The topic's timeliness was amped by a Sunday report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen about Ryan's future, that he'll return in 2022.
Ryan was also asked if he'd like to come back for another round. The answer was an unqualified yes.
"I want to be here," Ryan said after a 30-20 loss to the New Orleans. "I believe in this team. I think the coaching staff did a great job. I feel fortunate to have been here as long as I have. I'm optimistic. I want to be here. I feel good about this group of guys, the staff, everybody, really, and the direction it's going. I think we're going to make improvements this offseason, continue to grow as a team and be better than we were this year."
Bringing Ryan back gives the Falcons the best chance to be better in 2022. I'm asked to give opinions for this fine website, and that's mine.
There are a few reasons why. The first, which I've screamed from mountaintops all season long: Ryan's a damn good quarterback. He's a great leader and clutch performer who can still sling it. There are some who will argue that last point. I'll debate that one forever after watching all of his snaps this season. One point that's in no dispute: the Falcons earned more wins with him this season than they would've earned without him.
Here's another: That Falcons are also best served to continue building around the quarterback, giving Ryan, and his eventual successor, the players required to thrive and compete with the NFL's best teams. Using a valued asset on a position already in good shape doesn't help the overall product. Keeping Ryan and focusing on other areas also maximizes use of funds. Dead money doesn't help you. The cap savings gleaned doesn't help you enough. Even if Ryan’s salary and cap number is high, at least you've got a reliable quarterback for that coin, allowing everything else can be used to upgrade the roster.
All that said, if you go head over heels for a quarterback entering the NFL Draft, go get him. That's a position where you move mountains to get the right guy. If you don't fall in love with one, there's no absolute need to take a quarterback right now.
They'll eventually need a long-term solution, but the Falcons have a solid quarterback right now, under contract.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints during Week 18.
While his numbers weren’t sterling this season, don't forget he was often playing under duress and without a full complement of skill players. Ryan can help the 2022 Falcons win more games than they did this season, especially if the roster gets upgraded around him and on defense.
Ryan said a direct conversation about his future hasn't happened yet, though it's no shock with a campaign in full swing. He made it clear that he's excited about the Falcons trajectory and wants to be part of the franchise moving forward.
"We haven't talked about it," Ryan said. "We were playing the season and those kinds of things, going through a game plan from week to week. I also know that every year is different. That's the nature of this league. But I feel good about it. I really do. I'm in a good space and our team is in a good space, and that we can be better moving forward."
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Atlanta Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Kris Rhim. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.
Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.