The Falcons have a small window of opportunity to get a relative bargain deal by extending Ryan as soon as possible. But once Drew Brees signs his extension with the Saints, that window could potentially slam shut.
Matt Ryan has two years left on his contract, having been signed through 2013. He signed an initial six-year, $72 million deal as a rookie in 2008. Any extension he signs from this point on is almost certainly going to surpass that figure. But the Falcons could potentially save themselves a few million by signing Ryan as soon as possible.
Ryan is represented by the same agent that represents Brees, Tom Condon. Condon also represents the Manning brothers, Tony Romo, Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman, and Matt Stafford. His partners at CAA in Jimmy Sexton and Ben Dogra represent Philip Rivers and Robert Griffin III, respectively. Collectively, they represent a who’s who of top NFL quarterbacks, making it such that they are often competing with themselves to top each other with subsequent contracts.
Currently, the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Manning signed a five-year $96 million deal this past March with the Broncos. It only includes $18 million in guaranteed money currently, but that could increase to $60 million depending on Manning’s health come 2013. Brady signed a four-year extension just prior to the 2010 season that was worth $72 million and included $48.5 million in guaranteed money. Another noteworthy deal was signed by Sam Bradford in the same summer that was worth $78 million over six years, including $50 million guaranteed.
Brees’ deal is expected to be on the plus-side of $18 million per year, with many reports indicating he’s looking for a deal that averages slightly over $20 million per year. The expectation is that his guaranteed money will be north of $50 million, and potentially matching or exceeding the potential $60 million of Manning’s deal.
If Brees does eventually get the contract he wants, then it’s going to push Ryan’s deal up even more. Ryan’s deal isn’t going to exceed that of Brees, but if Brees is able to push the ceiling for QB contracts up higher, it will have a trickle-down effect that will make all subsequent deals higher.
Eli Manning signed a six-year, $97.5 million deal in August 2009 with $35.5 million in guaranteed money. Given that Ryan received roughly the same amount in guaranteed money ($34.75 million) in 2008, means that it’s likely that will be the biggest part of any potential new deal that will increase. If Brees’ deal lands on the plus-side of $50 million in terms of guaranteed money, that too will push up Ryan’s deal. If a deal is signed now, it’s conceivable that any guaranteed portion of Ryan’s deal would not exceed Brady’s $48.5 million.
Another factor in the potential negotiations is the fact that Joe Flacco is looking for an extension. Flacco is entering the final year of his contract, and his agent Joe Linta is looking to make him one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league on par with Brady. It remains to be seen if he can get such a deal from the Ravens, but it’s likely that Condon will want Ryan’s deal to exceed that of Flacco’s, once again potentially raising the price.
One also has to remember that Aaron Rodgers signed a six-year $65 million deal back in 2008. And a Super Bowl win and MVP later, he is likely poised to get an extension in the very near future before his deal expires after the 2014 season. Similarly to the case with Brees, if that happens before Ryan signs, it’s going to push up the market.
Becoming a free agent in the same year as Ryan potentially is Tony Romo, another Condon client. Romo a six-year, $67 million deal in 2007 with $30 million guaranteed. If he gets a deal done within the next 12 months, that too could push Ryan’s deal up further.
Some would question whether Ryan deserves to get a big-money extension given the fact that the team has yet to win a playoff game with him at the helm. But in reality, the lack of postseason success is a good thing for the Falcons, at least as far as Arthur Blank’s wallet is concerned. It gives Condon less leverage at the negotiation table because of the success of others. If Ryan does manage to lead the Falcons to a postseason win in 2012, then his price tag is going to only go up.
I think the reason why you also re-sign Ryan is similar to why it made sense for the Giants to give Manning that extension back in 2009. The fact remains that while Ryan may not be an elite quarterback, there is only a finite amount of players that are better than him. And finding a quarterback of that skill level is extremely hard to do, just ask the majority of the NFL teams that wished they had a quarterback like Ryan.
With Manning, when you look back over the past seven years since he came into the league, how many quarterbacks have entered that have been better than him? Rivers and Roethlisberger were from the same class, so they potentially count. Rodgers? OK. Who else is definitively better than Manning? Nobody. In the five years since he was drafted before he got his extension, only three players were better than him, and when you extend that to the seven years that number really doesn’t change.
Since Ryan has been drafted, who is better? Stafford? Newton? I’ll let you have that, if you’re going to measure purely off potential. I’ll even let you throw Andrew Luck and RG3’s names into the hat. Heck, you can even choose Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas who many think has Newton-esque potential for the 2013 Draft. So that means over the course of five drafts since Ryan was taken, you have five quarterbacks that you can make the case are better than him. That’s one player per year, and notice every single of one of them was taken either first or second overall, assuming Thomas will also follow suit.
The point I’m trying to get across is that the odds that you find a player that is definitively better than Matt Ryan comes down to perhaps one prospect per season that requires you to be one of the worst teams in the league to be in a position to get. I don’t know about you, but I don’t foresee the Falcons being one of the worst teams in the league. In fact, the only possible way I could envision that happening is if what happened to the Colts in 2011 happened in Atlanta, where Ryan was lost for a year and Chris Redman proved to be a Doug Johnson/Curtis Painter-esque disaster. Which if that were the case, only again highlights how good a player Ryan is.
So even if you don’t think Ryan is ever going to be an elite quarterback, he’s still a lot better than most, and the odds that you can upgrade the position without losing a lot of games in the process are extremely low. So it behooves the Falcons to marry themselves to Matt Ryan for another five or six years on that fact alone regardless of what sort of success he does or does not have in 2012. And if you look to where Ryan could be potentially three years from now, looking back it’s going to be a no-brainer to give him a long-term deal. Similarly to how the Giants Super Bowl win vindicates their deal with Manning three years ago, one that was controversial at the time.
And if Ryan was to sign on the dotted line before the 2012 season commences, you can probably get a relative bargain. I’m thinking that you could potentially get him at a deal that averages around $17 million per year, and includes guaranteed money that doesn’t exceed $45 million. Even waiting nine months to see how the 2012 season plays out, I think could potentially push that to $18 or $19 million per year, and guaranteed money that surpasses $50 million. It’s not a huge difference, but roughly $15 million you can save yourself over the next five years is worthwhile. Especially with a new stadium on the horizon, and pinching pennies wherever possible is going to help Arthur Blank keep ticket prices down.