After falling to the playoff-bound Bills last Sunday, the Falcons are officially eliminated from postseason contention. Under first-year coach Arthur Smith, the Falcons have won three more games than they did in 2020 with Dan Quinn at the helm. The first season in a new era was widely underwhelming, but the Falcons were still in the playoff conversation until Week 17, something fans haven’t been able to say in a few years.
Terry Fontenot and Smith inherited a mess of a cap sheet from Thomas Dimitroff, who pushed all of the Falcons chips in to chase a Super Bowl after losing to Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2016. Fontenot and Smith only had so much capital to improve the roster, but they hit on a couple of bargain free agents — Fabian Moreau and Cordarrelle Patterson.
The front office will have their work cut out for them this offseason too. The Falcons don’t have much more cap space than they did last year, so there will be more team-friendly, one-year deals to come in 2022. To begin, Fontenot will have to decide if he wants to bring back a number of impending free agents — Foye Oluokun, Cordarrelle Patterson, Younghoe Koo, Fabian Moreau, Isaiah Oliver, Erik Harris, Matt Gono, etc. He’ll also have the opportunity to address the contracts of Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and Jake Matthews. Restructuring Matthews’ current deal makes sense, but the other three don’t have obvious answers.
Jarrett could be extended or traded, which would signal where Fontenot and Smith see the team going. Jones’ contract should probably be moved, but if Fontenot can’t find a suitor, the Falcons will have to swallow his bloated deal. Ryan is going to be the focal point of the offseason, though. The Falcons are clearly not close to competing for a Super Bowl in the veteran quarterback’s later years, but the front office and staff may not see it the same way.
The Falcons will likely keep Ryan for another year; however, there is a chance they ship him off for multiple reasons — cap relief, draft capital, or Ryan could force his way out, à la Julio Jones. Considering all of those factors, it is possible.
If Ryan were traded in the coming months, Week 18’s matchup against the divisional rival Saints would be his last game in a Falcons uniform. It’ll be the end of an illustrious career and a sad realization for the Falcons faithful, especially for those who haven’t known anything different. Fans should prepare for the worst; take Sunday’s game against New Orleans as if it is Ryan’s last. Cherish what he’s done for the franchise and city of Atlanta. Obviously, this is entirely speculative, but it is undoubtedly possible Matt Ryan suits up for the final time on Sunday as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.