With Seattle's Russell Wilson and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers leading the offseason conversation about quarterback empowerment that could very well lead to this being their final campaigns with their respective teams, Atlanta's Matt Ryan has been overshadowed in that realm even though his fate after 2021 is equally uncertain.
Ryan, 36 and entering his 14th season, is fully aware of where he stands.
"The end is going to come for all of us," Ryan said in an exclusive one-on-one interview. "With that in mind, I can only speak from my experience up until this point. The end is different for everybody. I don't feel I'm in that place right now. I can still play well and I think we're going to end up going into the season with a really good team."
The difference, Ryan said, between him and quarterbacks like Rodgers and Wilson, and to lesser degrees Carson Wentz and Matthew Stafford, who wanted to continue their careers elsewhere and were traded, is how the Falcons have always shot straight with him.
"Whether you like the decisions that are made, I have always been treated with honesty," Ryan said. "When I was drafted it was by [GM] Thomas Dimitroff and [Coach] Mike Smith. Then it was [Coach] Dan Quinn and Thomas. Now, it's Terry [Fontenot] and Arthur [Smith]. No matter who it [has] been, even now with the latest change, I've been treated with honesty. I don't always agree, but never have I felt uncomfortable or not been kept abreast of what's going on. I feel fortunate.
"I just hope that continues through whatever the remainder of my career is."
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Smith, in his first year as Falcons head coach, thinks Ryan has plenty left. That's why, along with Fontenot, Atlanta decided to keep rolling with Ryan instead of using its No. 4 overall NFL Draft pick on a quarterback. They selected tight end Kyle Pitts instead.
"The first thing when I took the job, is you look at [Ryan] from afar. We played them two years ago, so you had some thoughts about that," Smith said. "You've got to be objective when you start reviewing the film to see where he's at. What you see is Matt is still playing at a high level."
Ryan threw for 4,581 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 4-12 Falcons team in 2020. He ranked fourth in total yards, but he threw it an NFL-high 626 times. As impressive as those numbers were, they ring empty when you only win four games, failure that led to Quinn and Dimitroff getting fired before season's end.
It also led to the departure of Ryan's top target, wide out Julio Jones. Jones wanted out and, as much as it pained Atlanta, they didn't want such a large, disgruntled presence potentially becoming an issue with a team whose personnel at the player, coaching and front-office levels, have been overhauled. Jones was sent to Tennessee for future draft picks.
Ryan said he loved Jones and that no player had been as important to his personal career than Jones. However, it wasn't just the loss of Jones that grabbed Ryan's attention.
"I have been through coaching changes but never a front-office change, never the head of the front office," Ryan said. "This is the most turnover I've been around and it's one of the things, looking at it like this, where I can say I've been fortunate enough to be in the same place 14 years to where you have to anticipate something like this happening. I have to be able to adjust to it.
"Looking at things, I'm excited. This is a new opportunity. A new phase of my career and I'm being pushed differently."
Pushed in several ways. By Smith and the staff, but also by who and what he's working with.
When Ryan entered the NFL, he was surrounded by veterans, who made his landing relatively easy. He enters 2021 with three positions along the offensive line up for grabs and a backfield that will succeed or fail as a sum of its parts, not by one stud.
Calvin Ridley steps into he WR1 spot held so long held by Jones. Ridley seems up to the task, but the rest of the offense must function properly for him to be able to do his thing the way he can truly do it. Russell Gage is the No. 2 wideout. The rest of the wide out positions are up for grabs.
Tight end is the area of strength with Pitts being a hybrid weapon who can play a variety of roles. Hayden Hurst also is a multi-threat player who also is competing for a new contract. Lee Smith is a veteran mostly known for his blocking.
What Smith said has been so impressive about Ryan is that he has worked with every position group since offseason workouts began, getting them up to speed. Ryan said his approach to that has been two-fold.
"I had really good help from veteran payers when I was a young player," Ryan said. "My center, Todd McClure, then Tony Gonzalez, guys [who] took me under their wing and brought me along. Now that I'm here, you see how things pass and it happens fast and then you're in their position. I feel that part of being a good teammate, part of that is helping those guys out whatever way I can.
"I also believe that getting everybody together gives us the best chance to win games. Getting guys to buy into what is being preached is the most important thing. That faster you get people to buy in, the faster you give yourself the chance to win games."
Before heading into the 2020 NFL year, we are going to look back at the best images from players on the active roster. Take a look at the best of quarterback Matt Ryan.
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