Early Bird Report: ESPN ranks Falcons' commitment to Matt Ryan tops in the NFL

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes an argument for why the Falcons' commitment to Matt Ryan is at the top of the list for any NFL team's commitment to their quarterback.

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Since drafting quarterback Matt Ryan with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons have enjoyed their most successful era in franchise history. It’s no surprise then that the Falcons awarded the former NFL MVP with the biggest contract in league history at the time in 2018.

Ryan was once again excellent in the first year of his five-year, $150 million deal, completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 4,924 yards and 35 touchdowns. The Falcons spent both of their first-round picks in this year’s draft on offensive linemen to give Ryan more support up front.

Given the structure of Ryan’s contract and the team’s moves to protect him, ESPN’s Dan Graziano ranked the Falcons as the NFL team most committed to their starting quarterback.

“Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger all have passed Matty Ice in average salary since he signed his deal,” Graziano writes. “But the structure of this contract keeps Ryan in the top spot when we talk about commitment. As of March 15, an even $100 million of Ryan's deal was fully guaranteed, including $20.5 million in 2020 and $5.5 million in 2021. It would cost the Falcons $68.9 million in dead money to cut Ryan next offseason and more than $35 million to do it after 2020. Ryan looks set in Atlanta for at least three more years.”

To see the rest of Graziano’s ranking of how committed each NFL team is to its quarterback, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

AJC: Falcons offensive line coach starts major project

By selecting Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary with their first two picks in the NFL Draft, the Falcons have made a clear statement that they are investing in their offensive line and the protection of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.

They have also given offensive line coach Chris Morgan two new and important pieces to work with. Morgan has been with the Falcons since 2015 and also serves as the team’s run game coordinator. Morgan was mic’d up during the team’s rookie minicamp practice this past weekend, providing a first glimpse of him working with Lindstrom and McGary.

D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote a bit more about Morgan working with the Falcons’ two first-round rookies, which you can read here.

The Ringer: The best player and team fits from the draft

With their first pick of this year’s NFL Draft – No. 14 overall – the Falcons believe they got a player who can really improve their team in Chris Lindstrom. Given recent reports that Lindstrom would have been taken by the Minnesota Vikings at No. 18, it’s hard to consider the pick a reach anymore.

The value discussion should be tabled at this point, anyway. If Lindstrom turns out to be a solid, reliable offensive lineman for the next decade it won’t matter when he was selected. And one thing is clear: He is a really solid fit for what the Falcons do offensively.

The Ringer’s resident draft expert Danny Kelly agrees, including Lindstrom in his recent piece about the best player-team fits from this year’s draft.

“I didn’t love the overall value the Falcons got with Lindstrom, as using the 14th overall pick on my 44th-ranked player felt a little bit rich,” Kelly writes. “But there’s no denying his near-perfect fit for the Falcons’ outside zone–heavy run game: Lindstrom is one of the premier athletes at the guard spot in this class—he tested out in the 96th percentile in SPARQ among NFL offensive linemen at the combine—and his quick feet and ability to keep his balance will be crucial for the types of blocks he’s asked to make in Atlanta. This wasn’t a super sexy pick, but Lindstrom brings toughness, reliability, versatility, and most importantly, elite athleticism to the team’s offensive line.”

To see the rest of Kelly’s best team fits from the draft, click here.

NFL.com: NFL’s top 10 offenses entering the season

For much of Matt Ryan’s tenure as the Falcons’ starting quarterback, Atlanta has been one of the top offensive teams in the league. Entering the 2019 season, that again appears to be the case.

Most of Atlanta’s key offensive pieces, including Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Jake Matthews are back in the fold for the upcoming season and that continuity should once again be worth trusting in. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling trusts in the Falcons’ offense, and he named them the fourth-best offense in the NFL heading into the 2019 season.

He breaks down and assigns a grade to each position group on the Falcons’ offense, and Atlanta’s receiving corps leads the way, earning an A entering the fall.

“Ridley was an instant-impact player, recording 821 yards and 10 touchdowns on 64 receptions as a rookie,” Wesseling writes of the Falcons’ receivers. “If he takes another leap in his second season, Ryan might have the luxury of throwing to the NFC's most unstoppable receiving corps. Sanu has been a model of reliability since leaving Cincinnati, while Hooper emerged as a dangerous outlet receiver in his third season.”

To see the rest of the grades Wesseling assigned to the Falcons’ offense, as well as the rest of his top 10, click here.

ESPN: 2019 NFL power rankings

Draft season is complete, as is the bulk of free agency, so we’ve got our clearest picture of what NFL teams will look like heading into the 2019 season to date. Under that frame of thinking, ESPN has released an updated set of power rankings that includes projected wins for each team as well as playoff chances.

ESPN is using its Football Power Index ratings to determine these power rankings, which is a metric that combines predicted efficiency for each phase of the game as well as other analytics such as expected points added per play. It might sound confusing, but that’s fine. You’re really just here to see where they ranked the Falcons, aren’t you?

Well, ESPN ranks the Falcons ninth in their recent power rankings, and Atlanta is the fourth-highest NFC team on this list below the Saints, Rams and Bears. The Falcons are projected for 8.4 wins and have a 41.8 percent chance to make the postseason. Beat writer Vaughn McClure provided his thoughts on where the team improved the most this offseason.

“Offensive line. The Falcons really invested in the line both through the draft and via free agency,” McClure writes. “They drafted Chris Lindstrom No. 14 overall as a guard with toughness, then followed by trading back into the end of the first round to select tackle Kaleb McGary. The Falcons also signed a dependable veteran guard in James Carpenter along with guard Jamon Brown. Lindstrom and Carpenter should start at the guard spots, and McGary has the opportunity to start at right tackle if he outperforms Ty Sambrailo.”

To see the rest of ESPN’s power rankings, click here.

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