The Atlanta Falcons moved on from Matt Ryan as their quarterback, even after failing to complete a trade for Deshaun Watson to replace him. The Falcons agreed Monday to send Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, to the Indianapolis Colts.
“Matt Ryan has been the epitome of a franchise quarterback during his time here in Atlanta,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. “He has represented this organization with great class, professionalism and leadership, both on and off the field, over the past 14 years. It is difficult to overstate what he has meant to me personally, our organization, his teammates and our fans. From his first day in the building, Matt has given his all in the pursuit of winning a championship for Atlanta.”
The deal came just before a deadline, postponed from last week, for Ryan to receive a $7.5 million roster bonus. That postponement occurred as the Falcons were attempting to land Watson, the three-time Pro Bowl pick for the Houston Texans. Instead, Watson agreed to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a deal to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns agreed Friday to a trade with the Texans.
The Falcons met with Watson last week and had seemed well positioned to get him. Watson is a native of Gainesville, Ga., and once was a Falcons ballboy. When the Watson trade didn’t happen, the Falcons and Ryan had to decide whether to maintain the status quo or move on. They opted for the latter.
“This business is not without its difficult decisions, and while this is one of the most difficult decisions we have faced as a club, we feel it is in the best long-term interests of both the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan,” Blank said.
The Falcons quickly replaced Ryan by announcing that they had agreed to a two-year contract with Marcus Mariota, a free agent most recently with the Las Vegas Raiders. Mariota spent five seasons with the Tennessee Titans when Falcons Coach Arthur Smith was an assistant coach with that team.
In Indianapolis, Ryan replaces Carson Wentz, who was traded this month from the Colts to the Washington Commanders. Ryan is in line to be the Colts’ fifth starting quarterback in a span of five seasons following Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Wentz.
“I’ve long admired Matt for his steady, methodical approach to the game,” Colts Coach Frank Reich said in a statement. “He is one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league and has spearheaded numerous fourth quarter game-winning drives. Matt will be a fantastic representative for our organization, and I’m excited to get to work with him and the rest of the team this offseason.”
Ryan, who turns 37 in May, is the fourth prominent quarterback to be traded in recent weeks following Russell Wilson, Wentz and Watson. Wilson went from the Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos.
The Browns’ Baker Mayfield and the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo also are expected to be dealt. The Seahawks and Carolina Panthers remain among the teams in the quarterback market. The New Orleans Saints filled their void Monday by agreeing to re-sign Jameis Winston, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Winston took over from the retired Drew Brees as the Saints’ starter last year, but his season was cut short by a knee injury. The Saints also were among the teams to have met last week with Watson.
Ryan had spent his entire 14-year career with the Falcons, being selected to four Pro Bowls while throwing for 59,735 yards and 367 touchdowns. The Falcons went 7-10 last season and missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
“I’ve got so much respect for Matt Ryan and what he’s meant to this franchise and to me personally in our one year together,” Smith said in a statement. “Matt was the ultimate professional and teammate every day. I’m thankful for our time together and wish he and his family the best as they transition to the next chapter of his professional journey.”
Ryan was named the NFL’s MVP and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season. They squandered a 28-3 lead in that game before losing in overtime to the New England Patriots.
The $7.5 million bonus was tied to Ryan being on the roster Tuesday. That meant that a trade, barring another postponement, had to be completed by the close of NFL business Monday. Ryan and the Falcons had agreed last week to push back the qualifying day for the roster bonus from Friday to Tuesday.
Ryan has two seasons remaining on a five-year, $150 million contract that pays him $23.75 million for the 2022 season. He and the team reportedly agreed recently to a restructuring of the contract that would have made a trade all but impossible, based on the salary cap implications for the Falcons, but did not file that revised deal with the league. Even without that restructuring, Ryan’s contract will count a cumbersome $40.5 million in “dead money” against the Falcons’ salary cap in 2022.
“I’ve seen firsthand from within the division and within the building the type of leader Matt is,” Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot, who previously worked in the Saints’ front office, said in a statement. “We thank him for being the consummate professional throughout this process and having the open dialogue as we work towards the best long-term plans for both sides. This was a difficult decision, but it was made easier by Matt’s professionalism and understanding throughout.”
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