New deal makes Matt Ryan the NFL’s first $30-million player

Nov 26, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

While the football world awaits news on an extension for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan locked down a deal that, at least for the time being, makes him the NFL’s highest-paid player.

It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the Falcons and Ryan struck a new deal, as his previous contract was set to expire after the 2018 season, but it appears this one tears up his previous contract and starts anew, with the extension years covered coming at a hefty price of $30 million per season.

Overall, it’s a six-year, $169.25 million deal that runs through the 2023 season. That’ll be the age-38 season for Ryan, who turns 33 on May 17. According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, it makes Ryan not only the first $30 million per year quarterback but also the first to get $100 million guaranteed.

After winning the 2016 NFL MVP, Ryan was good, but not great in 2017:

  • Passing yards – 4,095 (sixth among qualified passers)
  • Completion rate – 64.7 percent (eighth)
  • Yards per attempt – 7.7 (eighth)
  • Rating – 91.4 (15th)

What these numbers paint is a quarterback who is probably among the top 10 in the league, though the back end of that distinction gets fuzzy based on one-year spikes (Case Keenum, Jared Goff) and potential one-year declines (Derek Carr, Dak Prescott).

Taking a step back from a career year is by no means a criminal offense — and honestly, the Falcons went from 11-5 to 10-6, so it wasn’t a huge drop –but the drop was fairly precipitous in a couple facets.

For one, Ryan threw for nearly 900 fewer yards. He also threw 20 touchdowns against 12 picks, nearly halving last year’s touchdown total (38) and doubling his interceptions (seven). What that amounted to was a 25-plus point drop in quarterback rating (117.1 to 91.4). Considering his career rating (93.4) is just two points higher than last year, it’s pretty easy to see which year is the outlier so far in his 10-year career.

That’s not to say it’ll continue that way, just that it’s a statistical outlier at this point.

One place Ryan really struggled was in the red zone. While Ryan’s 15:2 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions looks great on the surface, overall he had just a rating of 80.7. That’s 25th among 31 qualified quarterbacks and behind guys like Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler and Trevor Siemian — none of whom have a strong hold on any job at this point.

Here’s one of Ryan’s interceptions in the red zone from last season:

Ryan was, however, tremendous in the fourth quarter last year. Only three quarterbacks had better fourth-quarter ratings than Ryan’s 102.4 — Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees — which came courtesy of 1,107 yards, nine touchdowns and three picks.

Therefore, it’s no surprise Ryan led two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives.

Here, Ryan finds Austin Hooper streaking downfield for a huge 88-yard touchdown pass in the Week 1 win over the Chicago Bears:

Ryan also did not do particularly well throwing into tight windows in 2017. On throws with one yard or less of separation at the time of release, Ryan had a rating of just 32.9 — 23rd among qualified quarterbacks.

Where Ryan was pretty true to form, however, was when it came time to convert third and fourth downs. On those plays, Ryan was ninth among passers with a rating of 91.1. The list ahead of him is quite interesting, though, as it includes Jameis Winston, Josh McCown and Taylor in addition to stalwarts like Rodgers and Brees.

This play is the best of both worlds, as Ryan finds Justin Hardy not only in the fourth quarter, but to convert a third down late. However, it did not lead to a win, as the Falcons fell to the Dolphins, 20-17:

Ultimately, what this comes down to is the cost of doing business. Quarterbacks of any experience level are expensive — such as Jimmy Garoppolo, who only has about a half-season worth of experience on the gridiron — and it’s no surprise Ryan was going to be part of that group. Now it’s time to see how he, Julio Jones and new wideout Calvin Ridley mesh on a dynamic offense that includes backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

By: Brandon Warne 
Follow Brandon on Twitter @Brandon_Warne