The ice has been broken.
The Falcons have opened negotiations with quarterback Matt Ryan’s agent, Tom Condon, which could lead to the NFL’s first $30 million a year contract.
Ryan is set to enter the last year of his $103.75 million contract, but the team wants to lock him up for the future and reduce his salary cap number for next season.
“The initial talks were positive, of course,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said on Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “We both know where Matt needs to be (financially). He needs to be here and he wants to be here and as I said, I don’t think it’s a complicated situation. It’s a deal that’s significant.
“We are just going to have to be mindful of not stressing too much about the timing of it. Our job is to get it done, obviously soon. I can see it getting done in the relatively near future. But I’m not stressing if it’s delayed.”
The five-year $137.5 million deal that unproven Jimmy Garoppolo recently signed with the 49ers has changed the market for quarterbacks. Garoppolo’s deal averages $27.5 million per year.
The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Redskins’ Kirk Cousins are also in line for lucrative contracts this offseason.
“It’s amazing to see where the cap has gone over the last 10 to 12 years and where the quarterback numbers are and where other numbers are when we start looking at franchise tag numbers,” Dimitroff said. “It’s unbelievable. Hopefully this sport continues to grow as it has and we’ll be looking at these numbers that are right around the corner in five years and we’ll be amazed that they are so low for quarterbacks.”
Ryan’s salary cap number is $19.25, which could be reduced to between $9 million and $12 million depending on the structure of a new deal. If the Falcons can re-sign Ryan before the new league year starts on March 14, they would have more money to spend under the expected $178-180 million salary cap.
The league is expected to release the new cap number on Thursday.
“Everyone wants to get certain deals done before free agency,” Dimitroff said. “With that said, you can’t necessarily cajole or force a quarterback and his representation in a market to settle and play out just because we want to get it done. That is something where I don’t get too tied up in the conversation about having this done by the beginning of free agency.”
While the Falcons plan to keep Ryan, they are expecting to lose Dontari Poe. The defensive tackle is headed for free agency and will likely receive a “lucrative” offer.
Dimitroff acknowledged that it will be tough to keep Poe, who will be in high demand by a lot of teams with a lot of salary cap space.
“Dontari did a heck of a job for us this year,” Dimitroff said. “We really liked his impact for us especially in the run game of course, understanding that it may be a one-year deal. We are in a spot right now there’s a very good chance he’s going to free agency and land a very lucrative deal.
“We appreciate what he has done with us so far and we do understand that there is a place for one-year-and-sign players. If it works and you parlay that into another deal, we are open to that. We don’t want too many of those players on the team. Not Dontari necessarily, but too many one-year players. It would tug at the continuity of the football team. But you can benefit from them.”
Poe played last season on a incentive-laden contract, which had a base salary of $8 million dollars. He bet on himself and had a solid season. He played 868 defensive snaps, the second highest on the team behind Grady Jarrett’s 870. He also played eight snaps on offense.
Poe was the seventh-highest paid defensive tackle in the league. The Dolphins’ Ndamukong Suh is slated to be the highest paid defensive tackle in the league at $16.9 million next season.
Reserve linebacker Kemal Ishmael and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel will not be re-signed by the team and will enter free agency.
“Ish will head to the market,” Dimitroff said. “I know that he likes it here a lot, but I know it’s important for him to see what might be out there in the market.”
Gabriel played with the Falcons the past two seasons. He had a major dropoff last season. In 2016, Gabriel had 11 plays of 19 yards or more and five long touchdowns (76, 64, 47, 35 and 25 yards.) He had only one touchdown last season, which went for 40 yards. He only had four plays for 19 yards or more and trouble getting off the line of scrimmage.
“Taylor will hit the market,” Dimitroff said.
The Falcons plan to retain left guard Andy Levitre, but will work to restructure his contract.
The Falcons also plan to pick up the fifth-year option on defensive end Vic Beasley, while looking into securing long-term deals with left tackle Jake Matthews and Jarrett.
“He’s another guy that in our discussion as far as putting all of these pieces together starting off with Matt,” Dimitroff said of Matthews. “Jake and it’s the same thing with Grady Jarrett. There are some guys on this football team that we know that we want to continue to work a deal with in the relatively new future.”
The Falcons also started contract talks with kicker Matt Bryant.
“We are confident that will get done quickly,” Dimitroff said.