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How Matt Ryan trade will impact Falcons salary-cap situation

The trade holds significant benefits in 2023 and beyond


The Falcons made some history by trading Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick. By moving their franchise quarterback, they'll now assume what's reportedly the largest single dead-money hit in NFL history.

The transaction saddled the Falcons with $40.525 million in dead money, per

That's, you know, a lot. It's also not all.


Combine that with dead money from Dante Fowler and Tyeler Davison cuts and last year's post-June 1 Julio Jones trade – the designation splits the dead-money hit over two seasons – and the Falcons have $62 million in dead money. That term signifies the amount on your cap that you can't spend. It sits idle, unable to help sign players to help the team be competitive.

That's bad news. In the Falcons situation, it can also be a good thing. They’ve been in serious salary-cap trouble for a while, with general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith inheriting a cap situation that has hinders their ability to fortify the roster as they'd like.

It has prevented them from re-signing some of their own free agents, who reached a price point the Falcons were too handcuffed to match.

It is, however, a temporary affliction. The Ryan trade sped up the healing process considerably. They'll get roughly $8 million in cap space this year, but the real benefit is getting Ryan's massive contract, renegotiated time and again over the years, off the books after 2022.

So, as it stands right now, the Falcons are set to have well over $100 million in cap space next year. That is expected to, at long last, free the Falcons from difficult salary-cap constraints.

"Yeah, we're taking it on the chin this year, but, taking it on the chin this year and now you look at where we are next year, it's significant," general manager Terry Fontenot said during a Wednesday press conference. "If not, if we don't do that, and again, we could have restructured his contract or done something with his contract and kept him this year and then we'd have still had – if we traded him after the season or if we keep him next year, then we're still in a really tough salary cap situation.

"With this, we take it on the chin this year, and it's our job to find value in free agency and to draft well and to put a good football team on the field this year even with that dead cap. It's an obstacle but we look at it as an opportunity, and that's our job. We're not making excuses about it.

"But us deciding to take it on the chin right now will really – it makes a significant difference for us next year [and] in the future."

The Falcons ultimately chose to make a bold move. They could've gone for the status quo but renegotiating Ryan's deal again, essentially kicking the can down the road.

"We couldn't have kept Matt Ryan the way the current contract was," Fontenot said. "In order to field a team, we were going to have to – we didn't want to do anything with Matt Ryan's contract last year, but we were handcuffed. We had to in order to field a football team, and it would have been the same thing this year. So, we had to do that.

"When we looked at doing that and the impact that has on us next year, then we're continuing to do the same thing, and then now we're in another situation next year where it's hard to sign and re-sign players."

A closer look at some of our favorite Matt Ryan moments.

While clearing so much dead money and a massive contract off the books will help in 2023 and beyond, it makes it harder to build a competitive roster this season.

That doesn't mean the Falcons want to call this experience part of a rebuild. That's a four-letter word in Flowery Branch, something they've never wanted to be associated with. Last summer, Fontenot said the word was insulting to those who worked so hard on the overall product, that it implies the Falcons aren't trying to win.

Smith called it a "transition," which is a fair and appropriate term for a squad with cap issues now moving on from a franchise quarterback who was here 14 seasons, without a clear-cut candidate to be his long-term successor.

While the Falcons are moving through a somewhat awkward period, they've vowed to compete for every accomplishment they can earn.

"The reason we hate the word 'rebuild' is because when we're talking to Casey Hayward and he's excited about coming home and competing right now," Fontenot said. "He's a real talented player that has done some really good things in this league. He's not coming somewhere to lose and he's not – again, Lorenzo [Carter], guys outside the building. When Younghoe [Koo] extends or when Jake {Matthews] extends, these guys are excited about going out there and competing.

"And yes, it's a challenge with all the dead money this year. It's a challenge but taking it all on this year – we're excited about what we're going to do this year because we're going to do the best we can and we're going to go out and compete, and then next year it's significant when you look at where we are.

"Again, I know you guys have all looked at it and the significant impact this will make on us next year, but we would never say that because it's just not fair. It's not fair to the players here. We've got 17 games next year, and we're going to go out and compete in every single one of them."


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