Falcons face huge decision on Matt Ryan amid potential rebuild


Is Matt Ryan's decade-plus run with the Falcons coming to an end?

Both parties have had plenty of time to consider the question after the team got off to an 0-5 start in 2020, a tough season-opening stretch that culminated in the dismissal of longtime general manager Thomas Dimitroff as well as head coach Dan Quinn.

The shakeup was fairly uncharacteristic of notoriously conservative owner Arthur Blank, prompting some to wonder whether the apparent departure from protocol would spill over to on-field personnel.

To see Ryan, who has played all 13 of his season with the Falcons, mentioned in pre-deadline trade rumors was pretty surreal in itself, considering he had signed one of the richest contract extensions in league history only two years earlier.

But in the short-term, at least, the Falcons stayed the course, declining to trade both Ryan and fellow franchise great Julio Jones despite the media speculation.

That didn't come as much of a surprise, though, as salary cap implications made it an extremely long shot that either star player would be on the move.

The offseason, however, provides the Falcons with relatively better cap circumstances, and a chance to evaluate where they're headed as an organization.

This evaluation will presumably include the quarterback position, though it extends well beyond, to both the general manager and head coach roles, which are presently filled on an interim basis.

And that begs a major question for the Falcons: Who will decide whether Ryan stays or goes, and how will that decision be made?

Blank will presumably have a say in the matter, but in October he declined to show his hand, saying "that will be a decision I will not make." So, it seems as if he is content to at least wait until his next front office and coaching staff are in place, if not leave it to them altogether.

Meanwhile interim GM Rich McKay, who usually serves as team president, and interim coach Raheem Morris have done an adequate job getting the team back to respectability after the dreadful start.

Morris, a former head coach with the Bucs, will likely be a contender to take the job full-time, though it stands to reason that it will be a relatively wide-open search. Falcons Wire recently published a speculative list of a dozen or so leading candidates for the job, mostly populated with the usual suspects.

Ryan, for his part, appears to be aware of the perception that he's on the decline.

After an ugly loss to the Chargers in Week 14 in which Ryan tossed three picks, he defiantly declared "I've got plenty left in tank."

The Boston College product, drafted third overall by the Falcons in 2008, appears to be mostly correct in his self-assessment, still rating out as a solidly average to above-average starting quarterback.

But at 35 and with his team on pace for its third consecutive losing season following back-to-back campaigns with double-digit wins in 2016-17, it's fair to wonder if he's still the player he once was.

More accurately it's fair to wonder whether the Falcons see him as the right fit moving forward.

Again, that decision will likely follow once Blank and his new coterie of managers have decided whether they want to tear down the roster and rebuild from scratch, or instead double down on building around the veteran stars presently in house.

If they choose the teardown option, they'll have to look outside the organization to find their next franchise QB. The cupboard is presently bare at the position, with 39-year-old Matt Schaub serving as the primary backup.

There will be at least a couple intriguing options in free agency, and potentially via trade, next offseason.

Dak Prescott, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are the headliners, each not without concerns.

Prescott of course is coming off a season-ending leg injury and will be commanding top dollar.

The Cowboys have said repeatedly they intend to lock up the Mississippi State product long term, but it has yet to come to fruition, and one would have to assume the injury further complicates a relationship that has appeared frayed at times during very public negotiations.

Poaching another team's star QB is relatively rare in the NFL, but the Cowboys have potentially exposed themselves to this scenario. It would be a bold stroke for the Falcons to say the least.

Newton's game doesn't appear to have evolved much in New England, only he's not quite the ballcarrier he once was. He still looks like a back-end starter, though, and his performance has to be graded on a curve considering he was out after contracting the virus.

Winston is likely to get another chance as a starter despite being overtaken on the Saints' depth chart by Taysom Hill.

The trade market could be a more fruitful avenue.

Veterans such as Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo and Carson Wentz have been grist for the trade rumor mill at varying times over the past year or so.

Of them, Stafford's exit from Detroit appears relatively most likely, as the Lions appear on the verge of a potential teardown of their own after sacking GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia.

Stafford of course starred for the Georgia Bulldogs, so his arrival would herald an intriguing homecoming of sorts. He'll be 33 next season, only three years younger than Ryan, though he has remained productive when healthy, despite the Lions' struggles.

Wentz, too, should have suitors if the Eagles decide on Jalen Hurts as their franchise QB.

A reclamation project is less splashy and more risky, but guys like Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky and Dwayne Haskins can probably be acquired relatively cheaply.

Finally there's the draft, where the Falcons appear headed for a top-10 pick, depending on how things shake out in their final games.

Trevor Lawrence will be long gone, but the Falcons could be in striking range for one of Justin Fields, Zach Wilson or Trey Lance.

It's too soon which route the Falcons will ultimately take, but their choice for general manager and head coach should strongly indicate which way the organization is headed at the sport's most important position.

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