An Affair on Matt Ryan?!

An Affair on Matt Ryan?! Let me just preface this by saying I cant tell the future. But I sit here on April 2nd having just walked away from yet another debate about the Atlanta Falcons and who they should take at pick 4 in the 2021 NFL Draft. I write this knowing full well that it could age poorly in just a few short weeks. I don’t know whats going to happen in the draft. I’m just a simple nerd reading tea leaves. …and those tea leaves are SCREAMING that the falcons will not be taking a Quarterback 4th overall in April’s draft. The Falcons have laid out a number of clues that indicate what they will – or more accurately wont do in the draft. And that’s draft a Quarterback. And yet every day this week, I’ve found myself in discussions with people on twitter, reddit, facebook, the water cooler, and everywhere in-between that it simply wont happen. The masses seem CONVINCED that they could take a QB. And that’s cool. Everyone has their own opinion. But lets explore this a little bit, shall we? I’ll start off with the “why they will” arguments. Because they do deserve some merit. There are factors that point to a need. Matt Ryan is now 36 years old. The team went 4-12 in 2020. They have an aging roster with a number of holes to fill, and are in salary cap hell. None of these are unreasonable as it relates to moving on from a quarterback and looking to rebuild things from the ground up. That would likely mean having to move on from franchise stalwarts like Julio Jones as well, but I digress. Taking a quarterback likely means entering at least some amount of a rebuild. And conceptually, that’s reasonable, given the roster. That said, the team has functionally told us that they’re not electing to go that direction. No, it wasn’t a public statement, a press conference, or even an implication to a beat reporter. Rather, it was their handling of Matt Ryan and his contract. Before I go any further in this piece, I want to pose a question. And I need you to answer it in your mind, as the answer has some amount of importance as to the direction of this piece. And don’t worry, I’ll steer you back if you come up with the “wrong” answer. Lets assume the first 3 picks off the board are Lawrence, Wilson, and Fields. (You can substitute Lance for Fields there if you wish, it makes no difference to me. The Vegas odds currently favor Fields going #3, so that’s who I’m rolling with, but you do you. Hell, put Mac Jones or even “Kellen Trask” (intentional) as we joked about on the Not Analytics podcast here if you wish, it still doesn’t change the direction of this article. Question: You’re the Falcons and you DO want to take Trey Lance at pick #4. WHEN was it that you fell in love with him? Chronologically, I mean. Was it sometime during his one-game season? Was it a pro-day? 2019? Stop and seriously answer that for just one second. Keep in mind that this is your Quarterback of the future. “Your guy” for the next 10-15 years. How long have you loved Trey Lance? The answer should be that you’ve had an idea about him for a decent while now. Maybe you didn’t love love him just yet, but you were at least dating and had those butterflies of “oh man this could be it.” And those feelings have all but certainly existed for a while now. I’ll tell you this much, you shouldn’t have just developed those feelings out of nowhere in the last 3 weeks. That’s a crush, that aint love. Yeah sure maybe you could get to love, but over the course of a couple of weeks? That makes me a little nervous. I know this seems like some wild tangent, asking about your process in scouting and evaluating a player, and the timing of how him as “your guy” is a bit… weird. I know, I get it. But lets circle back to Matt Ryan. You know, the guy you’re currently committed to. Right now, your franchise is committed to Matt Ryan. But he’s 36, and you’re thinking it might be time to see what else is out there. Maybe someone younger (don’t make my relationship analogy weird) with more potential for the future who you could see yourself with. The problem comes with Matt Ryan’s salary. And you can thank your lucky stars, we’re moving off of the relationship analogy, unless you really want to shoehorn in some jokes about relationships having a cost and all of that. Yada yada. Matt Ryan is committed to cost you $40m against the cap in 2021, $41m in 2022, and $36m in 2023 (all numbers rounded for ease). Out of those three years, he is guaranteed $40m, broken down by signing bonuses in 2021-2023 as $17m, 17m, and $8m, respectively. Because these are signing bonuses, any separation from the Falcons results in these charges immediately accelerating against the current year’s cap. So if inexplicably the Falcons were to cut Matt Ryan on April 3rd of 2021, he would could $43m as dead money against the cap… or such was the case. Three weeks ago, the Falcons elected to restructure Ryan’s contract. A restructure works by taking some amount of a player’s salary and reducing- but guaranteeing it by converting it into a signing bonus. This allows the team to prorate that bonus across the remaining life of the deal. In the case of Ryan, It reduced his salary by $21m in 2021, but increased his signing bonus proration by $7m in each of 2021, 2022, and 2023. Because of this conversion, if the Falcons were to again inexplicably cut Ryan tomorrow, he would now count $65m in dead money. This is because before his salary wasn’t guaranteed, but now converting the money to signing bonus does ensure it as such. And the question is why. And hopefully that “why” is the incongruence we can come to understand in the coming few paragraphs. Because the crux of the discussion is that restructure, and why it doesn’t make sense. That question of when you fell in love with Trey Lance? Yeah that’s closing in on this very point. If you’re the Falcons and you choose to take Trey Lance, why are you restructuring Matt Ryan? Essentially what the Ryan restructure does is that it ensures that a breakup between player and team will be messier than originally planned. No, theres functionally no chance the Falcons move on from Ryan in the coming days. But that’s fine, most people consider Lance to be a project worthy of sitting behind Ryan for a year. But if you sit Lance for one year, you’ll move on from Ryan in the 2022 offseason. Except that you cant do that either, his dead cap charge would still be $40m. Moving on from Ryan in the offseasons of either 2021 OR 2022 is functionally prohibited by the nature of the dead money hits. Its either going to cost you $65m now or $40m next (2022) offseason. And those figures are locked in. There little to no way of skirting them by way of trade, as they’re all signing bonus proration. Hell, even in the 2023 offseason, moving on from Ryan is going to cost you almost $16m. So lets circle back here. You take Trey Lance 4th overall. Congrats, you just got your guy. You now have forced yourself to either sit him for multiple years behind Ryan, pay $40m to your backup quarterback, or take the largest dead money hit in the history of the NFL as part of the transition. And most of this could have been avoided. You didn’t have to restructure Matt Ryan. You’ve locked yourself into $21m more in guarantees (or more realistically $14m in 2022 or $7m in 2023) to move on from your current quarterback. For what? Cap space in the short term? Yeah sure its beneficial now, but short term cap space wont help you if you take a Quarterback and signal a rebuild anyway. Of those options, you simply have to stick with Ryan. You didn’t have to restructure his deal, and yet you did anyway. And if you truly loved Trey Lance prior to March 16th, 2021 (the day of Ryan’s restructure), you knew that invariably the day of a breakup from Matt Ryan was to come. Why are you making things more messy and difficult on your cap than needed? There exists virtually no benefit, and only pain when the invariable breakup occurs. All that to say, the Falcons either aren’t taking a QB at 4, or their front office is extremely incongruent with how they’re handling Matt Ryan and his salary. So can we PLEASE stop mocking them a Quarterback? Epilogue: I’ve told you what the Falcons wont do at 4, but what I think they should do is trade down. If a team like Carolina, Denver, New England, etc wants to move up to take Lance at 4, do it. That would be fantastic. Fill holes elsewhere on your roster and accumulate picks. If you stay at 4, honestly any of the blue-chip talents would make sense, be it Pitts, Chase, Sewell, etc. Epilogue #2: Yes, I know the cap is expected to go up in 2022, and thus a Ryan dead money charge is theoretically more palatable. That’s true. But a larger dead money hit is still illogical, as you knew you were moving on from Ryan when you first fell in love with Lance. You’ve still made the breakup more painful for no reason. Plus, an increasing cap combined with your dead money hit is actually bad for you, as you’re still eating the charge and now you’re behind relative to other teams in competing for free-agents. That dead money hit reduces your spending power, no matter where the cap is. Hopefully you enjoyed this piece, and the rantings and ravings of my lunatic self didn’t drive you off too bad. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out my other work at http://notanalytics.com or follow me on twitter @FF_AHayslip. And for the love of god, please stop mocking the Falcons a QB at 4.

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