After 14 seasons in Atlanta, Matt Ryan could finally be on the move. With the Falcons still squarely in the running to land Deshaun Watson, Ryan’s future with the team that drafted him No. 3 overall in 2008 is completely up in the air.
Right now, the Falcons and the Saints are the two finalists to land Watson and if the Texans quarterback ends up in Atlanta, that means the Falcons will almost certainly be working as quickly as possible to get Ryan out of town in a trade.
Considering how much Ryan has done for the franchise and how he’s handled himself over the past week while the Falcons have been chasing Watson, there’s a good chance that Atlanta will look for the best landing spot possible for the former NFL MVP.
Remember, unlike Baker Mayfield — who demanded a trade after the Browns made a play for Watson — Ryan has sat quietly in the background while the Falcons have been trying to get something done with Watson. Ryan even did the team a huge favor by postponing a $7.5 million roster bonus that was supposed to become guaranteed on Friday (The bonus will now become guaranteed on Tuesday, according to ESPN.com).
So if Watson ends up in Atlanta, what will happen with Ryan? Let’s take a look at the best options.
If the Falcons want to do what’s best for Ryan, then they’ll do everything they can to make sure he ends up in Indianapolis. The Colts feel like a team that’s one good quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender and Ryan definitely qualifies as a good quarterback. After trading away Carson Wentz, the Colts are likely going to be looking for a QB who they can trust, which definitely wasn’t the case with Wentz, who had several disastrous games in 2021, including a loss to the Jaguars in the Colts’ regular-season finale that cost Indy a postseason berth. Ryan might not be a top-tier QB anymore, but he’s definitely an upgrade over Wentz.
The best part for the Falcons is that the Colts are in the AFC, so they wouldn’t have to worry about playing Ryan’s new team until 2023 at the earliest. Ryan has already done a favor for the Falcons by postponing his roster bonus and the Falcons could return the favor by trading him to Indy.
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After trading away Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are definitely another team that needs a quarterback. Although they do have Drew Lock on the roster, the Seahawks can’t be too thrilled with the thought of going into the 2022 season with Lock as their starting quarterback. Ryan would be an instant upgrade over Lock and the type of upgrade the Seahawks need if they want to compete in what should be the toughest division in the NFC.
Also, Ryan would probably enjoy playing in Seattle, where he would actually have receivers. During the 2021 season, the Falcons only had one receiver finish the year with more than 450 yards (This doesn’t include Kyle Pitts, who plays tight end). Ryan’s top receiver was Russell Gage, who would be a second or third receiver at best on most teams. In Seattle, Ryan will have guys like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who both finished with more than 950 yards last season.
The Browns currently have a quarterback in Baker Mayfield, but he doesn’t want to play for the team, so there’s a chance that we could see Cleveland in the market for a QB in the very near future. Although the Browns have insisted that they’re not going to trade Mayfield, they might reconsider if someone like Ryan becomes available.
The Browns are a team that went to the playoffs as recently as the 2020 season and with a quarterback like Ryan, they’d instantly have a chance to return to the postseason. If Mayfield does end up forcing his way out, then Ryan seems like the perfect replacement.
The Browns could offer Ryan a solid supporting cast on offense that includes Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Ryan has proven that he can be successful with strong offensive talent around him and the Browns would have that to offer.
Wild card: 49ers
During a recent episode of the Pick Six Podcast, Will Brinson floated this idea and it’s not completely crazy. If the 49ers are ready to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, but not quite ready to hand the offense over to Trey Lance, they could bring in Ryan, who would be the perfect stopgap quarterback.
If Ryan went to San Francisco, it would reunite him with Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers coach spent two seasons with Ryan in Atlanta and those two seasons just happened to be two of the most successful years of Ryan’s career. In 2016, Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons in a season where Ryan ended up being voted MVP.
Of course, this pairing will only work out if Shanahan doesn’t hold grudges, because after the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, Ryan seemed to pin a lot of the blame on him for the loss.
If they can let bygones be bygones, the combination of Ryan and Shanahan might be able to rekindle their 2016 magic.
Note: If Watson ends up in Atlanta, the Panthers and Saints will both be in the market for a quarterback, but there’s about a zero percent chance that the Falcons would trade Ryan to a division rival, so those teams aren’t listed here.