After a shaky preseason at the kicker position, the Atlanta Falcons made the decision to bring back Matt Bryant, the all-time leading scorer in franchise history.
Bryant, 44, has been one of the steadiest kickers in the NFL during his 10 previous seasons with the Falcons. In 2018, Bryant was 20-of-21 on field goal attempts with a long of 57 yards; he was a 33-of-35 on extra points.
The veteran kicker missed three games last season due to a hamstring injury, which prompted the Falcons to keep Giorgio Tavecchio on the roster for the remainder of the season even after Bryant returned. During his workout with the team on Friday, however, Bryant showed no red flags from a health standpoint.
"He looked healthy," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Bryant. "He looked strong, like he always does. Just like in a normal workout you start at an extra point and you work your way back. When he got to about [the 57-yard line], I said, OK, that's good."
Bryant, who wasn't ready to retire after the 2018 season, said his agent fielded calls from about five teams during the offseason. According to Bryant, those teams inquired about his readiness and told him he was at the top of the list should a need at kicker arise.
The Falcons kept in touch with the fan-favorite kicker, too. Quinn, who fully believes in the importance of the brotherhood culture he's brought to Atlanta, reached out to Bryant at various points over the summer.
"It's always a good reminder: Just because somebody is leaving the locker room they don't leave the brotherhood," Quinn said. "On military day I texted him. I've been all over the world with him, in military bases from Guam, and Hawaii, and Kuwait and Iraq. So, I wanted to let him know what a big day it was back in August.
"I knew he was putting in the work and wanted to play. But handling disappointment when it happens, that's a big deal. He didn't storm out of the building and make a big scene. Keeping those relationships strong for a guy that you have a lot of respect with on his side and on our side, so we couldn't be more thrilled to have him here."
The Falcons entered the preseason with Tavecchio penciled in at kicker. Tavecchio struggled throughout the preseason, however, finishing 4-of-9 on his field goal attempts and missing his final three kicks. Bryant has been among the league's best kickers during his time in Atlanta and has made 88.7 percent of his attempts as a Falcon.
During his time away from the NFL, Bryant adjusted his routine in an effort to take better care of his body. The Falcons are hoping Bryant can stay healthy throughout the season, and that seems to be the approach the kicker is taking as well.
"I just try to hold back on a few things, take it a bit easier," Bryant said. "Understand just not to push too, too hard … I did more stretching. I feel pretty good. Even now after my workout and normal kicking session I feel pretty good the day after."
Atlanta's decision to part ways with Bryant after the 2018 season created a stir within the fan base. Quinn lauded the way Bryant handled the news at the time of the decision, crediting it as a factor in the team bringing him back.
For a competitor such as Bryant, however, it was hard not being around football. But now that he's back in Atlanta, Bryant is ready to get things rolling.
"Was it frustrating? Yes, very frustrating," he said. "To watch some of the stuff that I saw on TV, but that's part of it. The main thing is that I'm ready to go for this team this year and be the best that I can be."