The Falcons organization had discussed the possibility of trading Matt Ryan this offseason, well before the prospect of acquiring Deshaun Watson came up.
General manager Terry Fontenot said that those talks were part of looking at all options, focused on doing what's best for the team in the short- and long-term. Head coach Arthur Smith said he had discussed the concept of a succession plan with Ryan a few times, including when Smith and Fontenot arrived in Atlanta and at the end of the 2021 season.
The topic of a succession plan at quarterback became national news when the team's exploration of a Watson trade with the Houston Texans became public. At that time, Ryan was already aware.
"It's not like it came out of the blue," Smith said. "It's not like those are easy conversations. We know how to do business with our players, and it's being honest and direct and transparent. That's how our conversations started off. Every day things changed, and I kept him up to date. We met twice in person. He was aware every day. People can feel one way or the other, but we were very transparent."
Smith and Fontenot talked about exploring a deal for Watson – he eventually waived his no-trade clause to go to the Cleveland Browns while getting a new, massive contract -- and the process of trading Matt Ryan to Indianapolis in a Wednesday press conference.
Fontenot first addressed the decision to explore acquiring Watson, a player facing 22 civil cases alleging various forms of sexual misconduct.
"We had a process and we looked into everything," Fontenot said. "We determined, from where we are and the information we had, we determined that we wanted to explore it. We take the allegations very serious but, based off the information we had, we wanted to explore it.
"…It was a collective decision. We had ongoing discussions about it, and we made a collective decision to explore it. Throughout the process, the entire time, Arthur talked to Matt on a regular basis because we [wanted to] make sure that he was informed and he was aware. We wanted to handle that part the right way. We, together, discussed it and made a collective decision to explore it."
Fontenot further discussed the process, which included talking to Houston and then meeting with Watson.
"Outside of that, we weren't able to communicate about Deshaun," Fontenot said. "Once you have that meeting, then you step away. Again, we were exploring this. That meeting was part of the process. If we would've taken the next step, we're continuing to explore. There was never a time where we felt like we were going to have that player here. We were just exploring it, very aware of everything involved in it and making sure we have sensitivity to that. We were exploring it."
Fontenot said the exploration would've continued even if Watson had been willing to waive his no-trade clause for the Falcons.
"If he would've chosen us, [then] we negotiate with the Texans and we do more exploring," Fontenot said. "It was a process and we were willing to go through the process of exploring it but, there were so many layers to it. It wasn't just as simple as him saying, 'that's where I want to play.' There were still so many layers to it."
Keeping Ryan up to speed was an important byproduct of that exploration.
"When you have trade discussions, they're going to get out," Smith said. "You have to have contingency plans. Terry and I, and our staff, are constantly working through those things. When you're across the Rubicon and you're discussing a trade and it gets out, how serious we were or not doesn't matter. You have to have a plan. The player may have a say, especially someone like Matt Ryan, and that's why we executed it the way we did."
We take a look back over Matt Ryan's best snaps with the Falcons—in monochrome.
The Falcons executed a trade on Monday, sending Ryan to the Colts for a 2022 third-round pick. The Falcons received draft capital and salary-cap relief in 2022, despite taking on significant dead money from the trade, and tons more in 2023.
Smith and Fontenot talked a lot Wednesday about doing right by Matt Ryan, sending him to a team the quarterback wanted to play for over pushing for maximum compensation above all else.
Ryan said in a Tuesday press conference that he appreciated how the Falcons kept him informed and traded him to a place he wanted to go.
"I'm not naive, I understand how this business works and that there's going to be movement," Ryan said. "From the time it started last week until we sit here today, I thought everyone handled things professionally. I didn't like everything I heard, but you don't always like what you hear sometimes. But they were professional and handled it really well."
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