After 13 seasons in the NFL, Matt Ryan’s contract is in sharp focus as the debate around the future of the Atlanta Falcons continues. What is the situation with Ryan’s contract, its impact on the Falcons’ salary cap in 2021, and their options if they want to move on?
Matt Ryan’s contract details and bonuses
Ryan’s current contract is somewhat convoluted due to the various restructures of the contract. The original five-year extension was signed in May 2018. The value of that extension was a total of $150 million, with $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.
His 2018, 2019, and 2020 salaries were fully guaranteed alongside a $46.5 million signing bonus and $10 million option bonus. Another $5.5 million in 2020 salary became guaranteed on March 15, 2019. That signing bonus prorated over the following five years at $9.3 million per year.
Matt Ryan’s latest contract has been restructured multiple times
Ahead of the 2019 season, the Falcons restructured Ryan’s contract. According to a report from Field Yates, the Falcons converted $8.8 million in 2019 base salary to a signing bonus. The bonus prorated against the cap at $1.8 million per year across the final five years of the contract.
Following the 2019 season, the Falcons once again restructured Ryan’s contract to free up salary-cap space. Atlanta reportedly converted $12 million in base salary into another signing bonus. They then restructured the contract again during the offseason. The second restructuring of that offseason saw them reduce Ryan’s salary to $1.05 million.
The outcome of that restructure was a further $4.9 million in prorated salary cap charged across the final four seasons of the deal. In the interest of keeping track, entering the 2020 NFL season, the Falcons had $9.3 million per year in prorated signing bonus, $2 million per year in prorated option bonus, and $6.6 million per year in prorated restructure payments.
That was a total of $17.9 million in salary-cap charge for prorated money in 2020. Including Ryan’s $1.05 million in base salary, his salary cap number for 2020 was just under $19 million.
Leading into the 2021 NFL offseason, the Falcons restructured Ryan’s contract for a fourth time in three years. This time, they converted $21 million in base salary to a signing bonus.
Each of the remaining three seasons of Ryan’s contract carries an additional $7 million in prorated bonus. That is a total of $13.6 million in prorated restructure payments, plus the $11.3 million in prorated signing bonus and option bonus. Overall, the Falcons carry $24.9 million in prorated money on the 2021 and 2022 salary caps with Ryan’s contract.
Ryan’s contract length is for another three years
When Ryan signed his extension ahead of the 2018 season, he had one more year remaining on his previous deal. Therefore, the new contract keeps Ryan under contract through the end of the 2023 season. That leaves three more NFL seasons remaining on Ryan’s contract heading into the 2021 NFL season.
How does Ryan’s contract affect the Falcons’ salary cap?
To summate all of the information above, Ryan will count for $26.9 million against the Falcons’ salary cap in 2021. He has $2 million in salary and $24.9 million in prorated payments. That number is set to rise to a mind-boggling $48.7 million in 2022. The $24.9 million in prorated bonus money remains the same, but Ryan also has a $7.5 million roster bonus due on March 11, 2022, as well as $16.3 million in salary.
Looking ahead to the final year of the contract in 2023, Ryan’s salary cap number will drop to $43.6 million. The $9.3 million in prorated signing bonus will be gone, reducing that prorated amount to $15.6 million. Yet, Ryan has another $7.5 million roster bonus due on March 10, 2023, as well as $20.5 million in salary.
What options do the Falcons have with Ryan’s contract?
There was a lot of speculation entering the offseason that Ryan was on his way out of Atlanta. However, the latest contract restructure ensured that would not be the case this offseason. Releasing Ryan before June 1 would leave the Falcons with a $65.4 million dead money charge. That would be an increase of $38.5 million over his current cap number of $26.9 million.
A release post-June 1 is possible but remains unlikely. The dead money in 2021 would be just $24.9 million, a saving of $2 million. Still, the Falcons would have to manage $40.5 million in dead money on their 2022 salary cap. That would be the same situation financially if the Falcons released Ryan following the 2021 season. The $15.6 million in prorated money due in 2023 would accelerate onto the salary cap alongside the $24.9 million already due in 2022.
If the Falcons were to keep Ryan through the next two seasons, there is a financially viable option to move on ahead of the 2023 offseason. Releasing Ryan after the 2022 NFL season would see the Falcons carry a dead money charge of $15.6 million. However, they have to make that decision before the roster bonus is due on March 10.
Could the Falcons trade Ryan and his contract?
At 36, Ryan is still very much a viable starting quarterback. There will almost certainly be interest if he were to be available on the trade market. With that said, the same financial complications apply.
Trading him ahead of June 1 in 2021 is a non-starter. Doing so would carry the $65.4 million cap number as if they released him. Trading him post-June 1 would leave the $24.9 million in dead money in 2021 and $40.5 million in 2022.
Nevertheless, despite the financial ramifications, the Falcons could get a reasonably good return if they traded Ryan. Ryan would cost the acquiring team just $2 million in 2021, $16.3 million in 2022, and $20.5 million in 2023.
Obtaining a potential starting quarterback for three years with a combined salary of $38.8 million is an incredible value, even at 36 years old. While a team will likely not pay a premium to acquire Ryan, it could be a way for the Falcons to recoup some value as opposed to straight out releasing Ryan and his contract.
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