- By D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Quarterback-starved NFL teams are making bizarre moves that could affect the Falcons’ negotiations for a contract extension with quarterback Matt Ryan.
However, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said he did not pay much attention to the trade of Alex Smith from the Chiefs to the Redskins and the impending Kirk Cousins free-agent financial bonanza.
“I don’t care about the other quarterbacks’ movement,” Blank told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday. “What I care about is taking care of our quarterback in a way that’s respectful to him and in a way that is respectful to the franchise.”
Ryan is set to make $19.25 million on the final year of his six-year, $103.75 million contract that he signed in July 2013. The team has said signing Ryan to a long-term extension is their No. 1 offseason priority.
While the Falcons want to re-sign Ryan, they want to maintain enough salary-cap flexibility to sign key players in the future. The defense is full of young stars such as defensive end Vic Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, safety Keanu Neal, linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell.
Left tackle Jake Matthews also is coming up for an extension.
Also, defensive tackle Dontari Poe and defensive end Adrian Clayborn are set to become unrestricted free agents March 14.
“We want to treat Matt well,” Blank said. “He’s been a great quarterback for us for 10 years. Hopefully, he’ll play another (10). … He thinks he’s Tom Brady, and maybe he’ll play to 44. Maybe we are at the midpoint of his career.
“I’m excited that he wants to play longer. But we also have to balance it out and make sure we have enough salary to keep the other critical parts on the team around. You don’t win with one player. It’s not like golf. It’s the ultimate team sport, and you’ve got to have other pieces around him.”
If Cousins has a calculated market value of $26 million per year, then what is Matt Ryan worth?
Ryan’s buddy, Matthew Stafford, signed a six-year, $135 million contract, with $92 million guaranteed, in August 2017 with the Detroit Lions. Stafford’s average yearly salary of $27 million is tops in the league.
“We have to approach it in a thoughtful way, and thoughtfully I think that Matt is the kind of quarterback and kind of person that will understand, at this point in his life, this is also about what is his legacy going to be.” Blank said.
“He wants to win championships, and he wants to make sure the team is in an overall team position that we can compete for our own talent and compete for other free agents. Compete and pay well (for) the draft choices when they get their second contracts.
“He understands that.”
Ryan is represented by Tom Condon, who’s not known for giving teams any discounts, hometown or otherwise.
“He wants to be treated well,” Blank acknowledged. “He wants to win championships. He expects to be treated well and respectfully, and he should be. We expect out of him to work with us in a way that the franchise is in the best position to ensure that there is other talent around him.”
Blank acknowledged that the Falcons could have been here getting ready for the Super Bowl if they converted on a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line against the Eagles in the divisional round or if Neal made an interception on a pass right before halftime in the same game.
“We were in a really good position to win that game,” Blank said. “We didn’t. I think whether it was execution, the defense or the play-calling, a combination, whatever it was, it was. We want to put ourselves back in that position again and have a different result.”
Overall, Blank generally was pleased with the season.
“I think we are positioned well for the future,” Blank said. “I liked what we did last year consistently on defense. Obviously, the offense was not consistently (very good). I think coach (Dan Quinn) and (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) are addressing it. I feel good about where we are competitively.”
Blank attributed the struggles on offense not only to having a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian, but also to losing key members of the offensive staff, such as running backs coach Bobby Turner and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur.
“I think (new quarterback coach) Greg Knapp will be helpful for Sark,” Blank said. “He’s been raised in this system, and he understands it. Sark, now in his second year, will go through the same transition that Kyle (Shanahan) did in his second year. I knew that was some of it. I’m looking forward to a much-improved offense this year, so is Matt Ryan.”
Blank has made it clear to his football executives that the Falcons are playing to win Super Bowls. He doesn’t want them to settle just for making the playoffs.
“It’s not really about who can have the best winning percentage in the league over an X period of time,” Blank said. “You have to do all of those things to be a competitive team, but you want to where you can get over the top.
“Getting over the top means to be able win the championship, get in the Super Bowl and to win some Super Bowls.
“That’s really for our fans and our sponsors and everybody connected to our organization. It’s not just creating a competitive team, but a team that can figure out the edge it takes to get to the next level like the Patriots have.”