Ten yards. That’s all that separated Matt Ryan and his first Super Bowl in 2013. As all Falcons fans remember, Ryan and the Birds never made it those final ten yards, watching instead as San Francisco marched off to New Orleans to face the Ravens.Instead of a bitter 2013, though, things turned out pretty sweet for Ryan: in July, he signed a 5-year, $103 million dollar contract with the Falcons, a moved hailed by many and questioned by some. Ryan promptly went out and suffered through the team’s worst season of his tenure – a season that wasn’t Ryan’s fault. Injuries, poor roster building, and some overdue unlucky breaks derailed the Falcons in 2013. Now here we are in 2014, and as we assess the Falcons this year, one thing becomes pretty clear: Matt Ryan has a three-year window to win a Super Bowl.
Where’s my logic for that statement? It comes from the following numbers: $19,5000,000, $23, 750,000 and 2017.
The $19 million number is Ryan’s cap hit in 2015. The $23 million number is Ryan’s cap hit for 2016 and 2017. You can see the full numbers of his contract here, thanks to Sportrac. 2017, coincidentally, is the year the Falcons unveil their new nest (apparently with help from the Batman). Here’s where the logic comes in.
If Ryan hasn’t led the team to a Super Bowl between now and the new stadium opening, then his $23 million price tag will be jettisoned in favor of a younger, more dynamic QB who can fill seats in the new stadium.
I know what some of you are thinking. They just signed him to the contract last year. The Falcons haven’t even played this year. There are lots of other things to fix with this roster than QB. If anyone is going to be the fall guy for the Falcons’ failing to win, it’s going to be Mike Smith (followed closely by Thomas Dimitroff).
I understand. But here’s the thing.
Let’s say Smith and Dimitroff get canned because of lack-luster seasons, either this year or next. That means a new coach and a new GM coming in, and while Ryan is definitely one of the best signal-callers in the NFL (despite what Madden thinks) a $23 million dollar cap hit is a heck of a lot more money to spend on a player than $10 million* to watch him walk away.
So bottom line is, the Falcons have to win now with Ryan. If they don’t, his contract – and the reality of the changes losing would birth – tell us that Matty Ice won’t be opening the $1 billion football palace of 2017.
Suddenly, 2014 just got a lot more important, don’t you think?
*That’s the amount of dead money Ryan would leave on the books if the Falcons cut or trade him in 2017. For comparison, Ryan would leave $34 million in dead money if the Falcons cut or traded him in 2015, and $18 million if cut or traded in 2016.