After 14 years, the Matt Ryan-era in Atlanta has come to an end.
One of the most proficient quarterbacks in NFL history, Ryan was traded from the Falcons on Monday to the Colts on Monday. Atlanta announced it had sent Ryan to Indy for a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Shortly after, the Falcons announced the signing of Marcus Mariota, inking the former Titans and Raiders’ quarterback to a two-year contract.
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Why did the Falcons decide to part ways with the most important player in the team’s history? The Sporting News breaks down the decision.
Why did the Falcons trade Matt Ryan?
In recent days, a trade of Ryan became inevitable. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Ryan did not ask for a new contract with the Falcons and instead wanted to leave the team. Ryan, 36, has two years left on his current deal.
The timing of the deal isn’t coincidental, either. The Falcons had until Monday a 4 p.m. ET deadline for a $7.5 million roster bonus on Ryan’s contract to be activated. The deadline had originally been slated for Friday, but it was pushed back as the team attempted to trade for Deshaun Watson.
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“Our goal in every decision is to improve our organization for the long term,” general manager Terry Fontenot said in a statement. “We believe today’s agreement is the best long-term decision, not only for our organization, but also the best for Matt at this point, which is important for us. We wish he and his family the best in their next steps.”
And as Fontenot said, this decision comes with its benefits for the Falcons. Ryan is not getting any younger, and the Falcons would likely have a tough road to being competitive in the next two years. Ryan’s salary was going to be a lot on the payroll over the next two seasons at $23.75 and $28 million, according to Spotrac. Now, the Falcons will have $40.525 million in dead cap space for Ryan, per Spotrac, the most in NFL history, but they will then be off the hook for his deal.
Even with that cap hit, the Falcons saved more than $9 million, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. That money will help pay for the two-year deal to sign Mariota.
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Why did the Falcons sign Marcus Mariota?
Bringing in Mariota could be a worthy bridge for Atlanta as it decides what’s next. Mariota worked with coach Arthur Smith in Tennessee, when Smith was a tight ends coach (2015-18) and offensive coordinator (2019) before Mariota left for Las Vegas. In his career, Mariota has passed for 13,437 yards with 77 touchdowns and 45 interceptions, while rushing 264 times for 1,574 yards and 13 scores on the ground.
Signing Mariota gives Atlanta flexibility to look toward the future. The Falcons pick eighth in the draft, and could turn to quarterback options like Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett or Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. They could also wait until 2023, when Alabama’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud will be draft eligible. In either situation, a quarterback would have a chance to earn the starting spot from Mariota over time.
The Falcons are still likely several years away from a realistic window to compete in the NFC, even playing in an NFC South that could — at some point — be without Tom Brady. Moving on from Ryan now starts the official rebuild window, with the team now setting its eyes on who the next signal-caller to lead the franchise will be.