Matt Ryan contract breakdown: How many years are Falcons tied to their franchise QB?

Matt Ryan has lived up to being the Falcons’ franchise quarterback in almost every way since Atlanta made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. A dozen years later, at 35, he’s showing some decline in his passing capacity.

Ryan has done his best throwing the ball to compensate for an awful defense, but by some mistakes of his own, he couldn’t prevent a 0-5 start that caused both coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the man who drafted him, to be fired. Just four years removed from his MVP season under Kyle Shahanan in which he led the team to Super Bowl 51, Ryan is at a career crossroads of sorts on a team in need of a roster overhaul to be competitive in the tough NFC South again.

Suddenly, there has been speculation about the Falcons drafting Ryan’s replacement in 2021 while his name also is being tossed in trade rumors. Here’s a breakdown of Ryan’s big contract with the Falcons and how it ties into his future in Atlanta, a place he wants to end his career.

Matt Ryan contract details

Ryan became the highest-paid player in the NFL in terms of average annual salary ($30 million) in May 2018, per Spotrac. The five-year deal he signed then was for a total of $150 million to keep him under contract through the 2023 season. The extension came on the heels of a five-year, $103.75 million deal that ran through 2019.

With his current contract, Ryan had $100 million totally guaranteed. He was guaranteed $94.5 million at signing and got a signing bonus of $46.5 million.

Ryan has slipped to No. 10 among QBs as now nine are making more than his $30 million per season. That includes the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, who earned $31.4 million guaranteed on the franchise tag in 2020. Ryan is now just ahead of Ryan Tannehill ($29.5 million), Jimmy Garoppolo ($27.5 million) and Matthew Stafford ($27 million).

What is Matt Ryan’s salary cap hit?

Ryan had cap hits of $17.7 million and $15.8 million on the first two years of his new deal. In 2020, that’s shot back up to $18.962 million. In 2021, the number balloons to $40.92 million before reaching a peak of $41.662 million in 2021. This year, he carries the second-biggest cap number on the team behind his go-to wide receiver Julio Jones ($20.4 million). In relation to the cap, Ryan is a relative bargain given the escalating QB salaries, but that will change in a hurry as he gets older.

When can the Falcons get out of Matt Ryan’s contract?

Going into Week 8, the Falcons were positioned for the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL Draft. If the Jets and Jaguars do stay ahead of them as worse teams in the end, the Falcons would likely miss out on both Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, assuming both elite QB prospects declare early.

There’s a good reason Ryan was never a realistic trade option ahead of the midseason deadline. The Falcons would get only limited cap relief ($1 million) now while eating more than $63 million in dead money. As that might suggest, the Falcons also are locked into Ryan in 2021. A trade in March would cost them more than $44 million in dead cap with an extra cap burden of more than $3 million. Designating such a move for after June 1 is also expensive, with $44 million in dead cap over two years to offset a cap savings of $23 million.

The Falcons could part ways with Ryan a little more reasonably ahead of the 2022 season, eating $26.525 million and saving more than $15 million. But a breakup gets a whole lot easier in 2023, when a straight-up release costs the Falcons only $8.6 million in dead cap with a significant $28 million savings.

Ryan will turn 36 next May. The Falcons, based on the financials, are locked into him for two more seasons. He isn’t the same big-armed passer he once was, but he is still efficient and is lifted by a strong supporting cast of skill players. The “elite” label might not be there but if he remains a top-half QB, Atlanta would likely stick with starting him through his age 37 season.

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