Because of the 2008 NFL draft, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco are inextricably linked.
Ryan was the third player and first quarterback taken in that draft. Sixteen picks later, the Ravens selected Flacco.
Both have had fine careers, but now that Flacco has won a Super Bowl and landed a six-year, $120.6 million contract, the stage is set for Ryan to join him in the $100 million club.
“I’m not going to comment on somebody else’s deal,” Ryan said, softly, after Tuesday’s OTAs. “He certainly is a good player. He won a Super Bowl last year, and I’m certainly happy for him.”
The Falcons have made no secret that they plan to lock up Ryan for the long haul, as he’s set to enter in the final year of his original six-year contract. But he’s not losing any sleep over the pending deal, which both sides would ideally like to complete before the start of training camp in late July.
“You know, I’ll leave that to my agents and the front office,” Ryan said. “Those guys will get that stuff done.”
Ryan has started since his rookie season and has guided to the Falcons to five consecutive winning seasons and four trips to the playoffs.
Ryan and the team had a breakthrough playoff win last season over Seattle in the divisional round before losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 28-24, a step away from the Super Bowl, where he would have faced Flacco and the Ravens.
While Ryan is in line for a lucrative deal, he believes a great deal of his success can be attributed to the team surrounding him with offensive weapons.
“As a quarterback, you love having guys around you,” Ryan said. “I’ve said it for a long time, it’s just my job to try and get the ball in their hands when they are in position to make a play. When you have guys on the outside who can do that, it’s a lot of fun.”
One constant will change for Ryan as he’s set to enter his sixth season in the league. Veteran center Todd McClure, who helped teach him how to read NFL defenses, has retired. He’s now working mostly with second-year man Peter Konz.
“Peter has done a great job working in at center, trying to replace Todd,” Ryan said. “We got a lot of work together last year. Maybe not so much in terms of game time, but on the practice field we’ve got a lot of work together.
“He’s a mature guy for a young player. He takes it really seriously. He’s a really hard worker, and he’s extremely smart. Those are all qualities that you really want from your center.”
Konz is trying to hold off a challenge from Joe Hawley for the starting position.
Also, Ryan is closing in on Steve Bartkowski’s franchise-record for most touchdown passes. Ryan needs 27 more to tie Bartkowski’s mark of 154. Ryan thrown 32, 29 and 28 touchdowns passes in the past three seasons.
“Certainly, it’s great to be in company with Bart,” Ryan said. “He was obviously an awesome player in his time. He’s probably the premier quarterback to have ever played here in Atlanta. But he’s also a great guy, and I’ve gotten to know him well.”
Ryan, who is coming off his best season statistically, doesn’t want to get consumed by the numbers.
“If you are worrying about statistics and records and all of those kinds of things, it takes away from being able to do the job the best that you can,” Ryan said. “I don’t worry about it too much, but it’s certainly nice to be mentioned in the same sentence with Bart.”
Ryan’s 2012 season ended with his shoulder in a sling with a separation suffered in the San Francisco game. He would have played had the team reached the Super Bowl.
“Every offseason, you try and find areas where you can improve, but each offseason is different, too,” Ryan said. “This year, at the beginning, it was more about getting healthy from the end of last year. It took some time to get my shoulder right and my body right until I could start training the way I need to.
“I think it’s been more of a balanced approach this year of trying to get in the best shape that I can and also be as mentally prepared as I can.”