Matt Ryan is a Falcons’ legend. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards (by more than double the next closest), passing touchdowns (by more than double the next closest), and Approximate Value. He also led the team to one of their only two Super Bowl appearances and won the franchise’s only MVP award ever. Many thought that, although Ryan’s best days were behind him, the former third overall pick would be in Atlanta for the entirety of his career.
That assumption came crashing down on March 21, when it was announced that the Falcons had traded Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a measly third-round pick. It was a decision that, while shocking, could’ve been forgiven had the Falcons acquired a new quarterback to be their face of their franchise. They didn’t.
Per Ryan himself, he even wanted to stay in Atlanta, but the team’s pursuit of former Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson made Ryan’s decision to leave easy. On the latest episode of the Ryen Russillo podcast, Ryan spilled the beans on how his tumultuous offseason went down.
“When free agency starts to pick up and they start to look into what they want to do, I kind of got filled into the loop that they were going to look into Deshaun Watson. And then at that point, I said, OK, I understand. But I also need to look into what I need to look into. And if this doesn’t go down, find out if this is probably still the best fit for me.
“And as that week went on and just kind of looked into, on my end, what might be the best possible landing spot, or what was best for myself and my family moving forward, as we did that research, to me, it became one spot. And you never know, though, in that situation whether or not that one spot is also going to feel the same way about you. And for me, fortunately, they did. And they have the belief in me and what I can bring to this team. So, from that standpoint, I think it worked out perfectly on my end.”
The Falcons didn’t land Watson, although the team likely came very close to doing so. Over a month ago now, Watson posted an Instagram story showing off all of his new Browns’ jerseys. In the background though was a folded up Falcons jersey. Watson never pointed out the jersey even after it was pointed out, but the jersey very clearly has a ‘4′ on its shoulder, which makes it all the more likely that it was in fact a Watson Atlanta jersey. Regardless of whether or not the Falcons did secure Watson though, Ryan was already out of town. Based on his statement in the paragraph above, Atlanta’s pursuit of Watson must have been so aggressive it convinced Ryan that there was no future where Ryan was the quarterback for Atlanta come September.
When asked whether or not he would’ve stayed in Atlanta had the Falcons not gone after Watson, Ryan said: “There’s probably a chance — a pretty good chance. But it did [happen], you know? So when it does, when the situations change and the circumstances change… You know, I had always thought, like everybody, when you’re drafted there, and you play there, this is where I’m going to play my entire career. For 14 years, every day I woke up, it was to try and help the Falcons win a championship. And that had been reciprocated on the other end for me. And so when that changed, I had to look into it.”
Essentially, the Falcons likely could’ve had Ryan for another year, but only if they’d never gone after Watson. Given Ryan’s decline in production in recent years, it made sense for the Falcons to go after a serious game-changer at quarterback. But that’s ignoring Watson’s awful sexual assault allegations. However, in doing so, the Falcons lost any chance at competing in 2022. Their quarterback room is Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder. They don’t have any extra draft picks. They don’t have any proven offensive weapons. So, let this be a lesson to any team looking to improve at quarterback. Don’t let your current QB go until you’ve got your new guy in house already.
The Falcons are the most miserable franchise in the NFL right now. They could’ve had Ryan another year and paired him up with Drake London. However, they failed to keep Ryan happy which led to his departure. They failed to land his replacement. They failed to grab any of the other proven veteran quarterbacks and were forced to draft Ridder in the third round of the draft a year before the likes of Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson, and C.J. Stroud became available. Yikes! That’s an awful offseason, and it could’ve been avoided entirely if they’d only made the greatest player in their franchise’s history feel a little more comfortable.