I think it’s a foregone conclusion that at some point in the next six or seventh months the Falcons will sign a long-term extension with quarterback Matt Ryan that makes him one of the highest paid signal callers in the NFL.
If the Falcons can get a deal done with Ryan prior to the start of free agency on March 12, it could free up much needed cap space. Ryan is set to count $12 million against the Falcons cap this year. Given the nature of large contracts that are heavily backloaded, it likely means that cap figure will decrease dramatically in the first year of Ryan’s deal. We’re talking about perhaps $6 million the Falcons could reap immediately. Given how tight the Falcons cap situation is, that $6 million could really come in handy when it come to re-signing their own free agents or signing guys from other teams.
Ryan will likely be joined by Super Bowl MVP and impending free agent Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys in terms of getting brand new contracts this off-season. What is interesting is that Ryan and Romo share the same agent, Tom Condon.
Flacco’s agent Joe Linta made headlines a year ago discussing that he believed his client was then a Top 5 quarterback, which most laughed at. Well a year later now his client is sporting some serious bling, and he certainly has the last laugh. It is now expected that Linta will seek to make his client the highest paid quarterback in the league.
The player who currently holds that title is another Condon client by the name of Drew Brees. Brees signed a five-year deal that averaged $20 million last year with $60 million guaranteed, including $40 million paid at the outset.
When the Falcons drafted Ryan in the final years of the whopping rookie contracts, they gave him a deal that averaged $12 million a year with roughly $35 million guaranteed, then the highest ever given to a quarterback. The following year, No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford got $50 million guaranteed on a deal that average $13 million a year. That was followed up in 2010 by Matt Stafford’s contract that averaged about $12 million and had $42 million guaranteed, but also included an additonal $17 million option bonus paid in the second year which was not technically guaranteed, but about as close as you can get. By the way, Condon also represents both players.
Another Condon client, Peyton Manning signed a five-year deal with the Broncos last March that averaged $19 million per year with guarantees that will reach $60 million assuming Manning doesn’t fail a physical between now and March.
I’m trying to illustrate the landscape in which Ryan comes in for his future contract negotiations. Ryan has more regular season wins than any other quarterback in the last five seasons with 56. In fact, that is the most ever for any quarterback in NFL history in his first five seasons. That is certainly going to be a point that Condon makes during negotiations. Flacco isn’t far behind him with 54 regular season wins, but throw in his 9 postseason wins, it pushes him to 63 total over the past five years, the most in the league.
But Ryan isn’t far behind when you factor in postseason success, tying with Aaron Rodgers for 57 total. That outpaces Brees (56 total), Tom Brady (53), Ben Roethlisberger (53), Eli Manning (52), and Peyton Manning (51). Again, these are going to be key points for Condon in negotiations.
Brees was 33 when he signed his deal, and Manning was 36. Ryan will be 27 or 28 when he signs his deal. His current success coupled with his age that assumes continued success in the future is going to cause Condon to seek deals that exceed those of his two previous clients.
So it all brings us back to the question of whether this will help the Falcons get a deal done with Ryan sooner rather than later in order to reap the immediate cap benefits.
The Ravens fully intend to tag Joe Flacco if they cannot work out a deal before the start of free agency in March. The problem is that once players get tagged, negotiations often grind to a halt until the mid-July deadline approaches. That deadline delineates a point where teams can still sign their franchise players to long-term deals. After which, players and teams are forced to play out the one-year deal. There’s virtually no chance that Flacco doesn’t have a deal done by then. But the question in relation to the Falcons is whether the deal gets done much sooner than that.
Because the simple truth is that Condon doesn’t have a deadline. Unlike Flacco, Matt Ryan is not an impending free agent. 2013 is the final year of Ryan’s contract, but Condon isn’t compelled to negotiate a deal before the end of this season. Ryan is due $10 million in base salary, and Condon is entitled to his 3%, so he’s guaranteed to make $300,000 off Ryan this year by doing absolutely nothing.
So the reality is that a Ryan deal probably won’t get done until Flacco’s deal gets done. Condon has already set the bar for the two highest contracts given to quarterbacks in Brees and Manning, and thus will probably let Linta do the work to set a new market.
The problem for the Ravens and Falcons is that when you’re negotiating contracts of that size, it takes quite a bit of time before both sides are comfortable with the numbers. That was evidenced by the negotiations between Condon and the Saints last year over Brees deal. Brees was tagged at the start of the off-season by New Orleans, and the deal didn’t get done until July 13, three days prior to the deadline.
So it doesn’t seem likely that Flacco and the Ravens will come to an accord in the next three weeks before free agency begins. Which means that there is even less a chance that a deal between Ryan and the Falcons get done. Thus, more than likely the Falcons are going to have to find other ways to free up cap space if they intend to be active in free agency this March.
What is likely going to play out is that Flacco will carry the franchise tag for most of the off-season. The Ravens do have some cap room to work with, but Flacco’s franchise tag which will be somewhere between $15 and $20 million is going to eat up all of that space. And given that a number of key Ravens will be impending free agents such as Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, Dannell Ellerbe, Dennis Pitta, and Ed Reed, that alone might be the onus to push for the Ravens to get a deal done sooner. But the reality is that besides Pitta, none of those guys really are essential pieces. Their top two picks from the past two years in Courtney Upshaw and Jimmy Smith can presumably slide in to replace Kruger and Williams. Losing Ellerbe will certainly hurt also given the impending retirement of Ray Lewis. But with Jameel McClain seemingly on his way back and Josh Bynes playing decent late in the year, as well as they could easily draft a good young middle linebacker this April alleviate issues there. Reed is going to be 35 this year, has publicly contemplated retirement the past few years, and is coming off a bit of a down year. Throw in a fairly solid class of safeties in this year’s draft class, and it’s not a huge obstacle to replace him. So it’s not as if the Ravens don’t have contingency plans should a deal not get done with Flacco in the next few weeks.
If I was to place a bet, I would guess that Flacco’s deal gets done in the first two weeks of July before the deadline. Then immediately following that you hear the negotiations with Condon picking up steam for the Falcons, and you have Ryan signing a deal just before the start of training camp at the end of the month.
I can only guess to what sort of deal Ryan gets when he signs on the dotted line because I think that will also be heavily dependent on what Flacco gets. I’m not sure Ryan’s contract will exceed Flacco’s deal, but it will be pretty darn close. So if Flacco gets $21 million a year, then I would expect Ryan to make $20.5 million a year. If Flacco gets $64 million guaranteed, then Ryan probably gets $61 million guaranteed.
But there’s also no guarantee that Condon will be willing to negotiate a deal for less than what Flacco makes. Because there really hasn’t been a point in the past five years where a Condon client hasn’t been the highest-paid quarterback in the league. It’s good currency when it comes to recruiting the next crop of talented quarterbacks if you can trump that your guy is the highest paid guy in the league. Besides Flacco, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers, Condon’s client list essentially is a who’s who of all the top quarterback prospects. Romo certainly is going to get that level a contract from Dallas, so Ryan represents their best chance to reclaim the title. Which again means that Condon will probably wait until after Flacco’s deal is signed before a deal for Ryan gets done. The only way the Falcons can circumvent this and get a deal done sooner is by purposefully setting the market between now and March. And given how much Thomas Dimitroff has stressed fiscal responsibility in past off-seasons, such a move doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Ultimately, the Falcons might wind up paying a heavy price for Ryan, but I doubt they rush into it.
This ultimately is the consequence of not getting a deal done last year. I said last June that a new deal for Ryan may have cost the team only $17 million per year and less than $50 million guaranteed. But now that Ryan is coming off his best season, coupled with Brees’ deal and Flacco’s impending deal has pushed up Ryan’s negotiating posture.