Matt Ryan doesn’t have long to prove his worth to Falcons

CHARLOTTE: Matt Ryan and the Falcons found no answers against the Panthers falling 38-0 in a football game on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Charlotte. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Matt Ryan has a lot to prove in the next two seasons as the Falcons will be in position soon to make a decision about his future with the team. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

It’s roster planning season in the NFL, and not surprisingly there has a been a great deal of focus on quarterbacks.

Peyton Manning is expected to announce his retirement as early as this week (and certainly before March 8, when his $19 million contract in Denver becomes guaranteed). New England’s Tom Brady just had his contract extended two more years through 2019 (and the age 42). Baltimore’s Joe Flacco will have his deal restructured and extended to something more cap-friendly. And Johnny Manziel is awaiting a grand jury’s decision on whether to indict him on assault charges, assuming he will be sober enough to process the moment, or whatever remains of his career or his life.

Then there is Matt Ryan. He is not a player the Falcons will make a decision on right now. But they have to be thinking about it. Ryan has three years left on his contract but I believe he has only two to prove his value to the Falcons.

He took a significant step back last season in efficiency rating (89.0), touchdowns (21), interceptions (16) and third-down efficiency (89.8). I understand the position of Ryan’s defenders that he has suffered from poor offensive line play, or that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should be blamed more for last season’s ills than the quarterback. But anybody who absolves Ryan of blame isn’t watching the games objectively. He frequently missed receivers and made poor decisions last season. He did things that an eight-year starting NFL quarterback with a $20-million-plus salary cap hit should not be doing.

Ryan’s base salary each of the next two seasons is $15.75 million. I don’t foresee any scenario in which he would have such a bad 2016 season that the team would look to trade him after the year. Also, the projected salary cap hit from his pro-rated signing bonus would be enormous: $10.4 million. But Ryan’s $28 million signing bonus will be paid off after 2017, making a change before the 2018 season plausible. The cap hit would be minimal ($2.4 million).

I’m not predicting the Falcons will make a change. I’m certain that’s not their preference. But at the time they gave him a $103.75 million extension, it was with the idea that he was — and would continue to be — one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL.

Is he that now? I don’t think so.

Here’s my top 10 quarterbacks for the next two years. Ryan didn’t make the cut. I also didn’t include Phillip Rivers (34), Eli Manning (35) or Carson Palmer (36), at least in part because of their age, although that hasn’t hindered a few guys on the list. It’s also worth noting that three of my top 10 play in the NFC South.

1. Tom Brady: He threw for 36 touchdown passes, 7 interceptions (in 624 attempts) and 4,770 yards  at the age of 38. So he could slide and still be great in two years. Also four years.

2. Aaron Rodgers: He took a slight step back last season but that was more the result of the Packers collapsing around him than the quarterback’s numbers (31 TDs, 8 ints. Despite being sacked 46 times)

3. Cam Newton: Sure, he needs to grow up a little more and his numbers dramatically improved this season (from 18 TDs and 82.1 rating in 2014 to 35 and 99.4 this season) and he makes plays to win games. And he has led Carolina to three straight division titles and a Super Bowl appearance.

4. Ben Roethlisberger: The man could lose major organs and still throw for 4,000 yards. Pittsburgh had no business winning a playoff game this season and nearly upset Denver in the playoffs, while Roethlisberger was being held together with duct tape.

5. Russell Wilson: He’s 46-18 in the regular season in four years and has won playoff games every year (7-3, including two AFC titles and a Super Bowl win). Stats: 34 TDs, 8 ints.

6. Drew Brees: His interception total dropped from 17 to 11 and at the age of 37 he still ranked among leaders in yardage (first), gains of 20 yards or more (second) and rating (sixth).

7. Jameis Winston: He had an impressive rookie season under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, now his head coach, and that’s even before you consider the 20-yard scramble on third-and-19 against the Falcons during which he made their defense look like 11 kinds of silly.

8. Andrew Luck: He had three great seasons and then one injury-plagued bad one. I’ll use the first three as my compass.

9. Marcus Mariota: I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Tennessee organization in general or new head coach Mike Mularkey in particular. But Mariota is as poised of a young quarterback as you’ll find and he will only get better.

10. Matthew Stafford: The question about Stafford has always been leadership, even going back to Georgia. But his talent is undeniable and I still believe he can win at a high level in the NFL – just not Detroit, which has been a grease fire for too long. His future is worth watching. He has only two years left on his contract, and trading or cutting would not be cap-prohibitive after next season.

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64 comments
Jake from State Farm
Jake from State Farm

You completely lost credibility with me by including Winston and Mariotta. Maybe one day but not even close right now.

JDunn1993
JDunn1993

This is the worst attempt at a top ten QB list I have seen in many, many years. Stafford has never, ever been elite- his career is focused around mediocracy. Jameis is completely, utterly unproven. One season of an average passer rating behind a solid O-line does not even come close to warranting a top-ten placement. Honestly some time I wonder if the people who write these articles even watch football.... 

Jay Nichols
Jay Nichols

The last 3 picks on your list has me choking with laughter. Get a clue Schultz.

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

I like it when Schultz blog trolls with nonsense articles. So provocative, taking on Matt Ryan like that. What's next? Another bombshell Deflategate post?

jdcigar
jdcigar

Ryan is in a can't win situation.  He obviously did not play well last year but the bigger problems were an ill fitting offensive system and lack of talent around him, primarily on the offensive line.  Given the faith the Quinn still has in Shanahan, the offensive system is not changing and given the faith that Quinn has in Dimitroff, the player selection will not improve much.


i cant remember being less optimistic about the Falcons!

TomJunod
TomJunod

@JeffSchultzAJC Good piece, Jeff. Matty just can't make the throws and plays those other guys can make.

Wilbo
Wilbo

Matt Ryan is a HUGELY overrated, ridiculously overpaid, sadly inflexible middle of the pack QB who can occasionally look good against mediocre competition, but who will ALWAYS blow it against any kind of rush in an important game. 


Little Jeffery Schultz is a low intelligence, untalented, unfunny, uncreative homer writer who can come up very occasionally w an almost passable article. Kinda like this one.


You rated Jamies Winston way higher than he deserves, tho, dimwit.

TOJacket
TOJacket

We wouldn't be discussing Stafford if Calvin Johnson played for another team.

Funky9ers
Funky9ers

@JeffSchultzAJC Don't disagree with the overall premise of the blog, but you lost me at Stafford and Mariotta projected higher than Ryan.

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

Read most of the posts here and think the truth lies more towards the middle. Is MR a good serviceable QB? YES. Is he the type of QB who can carry the team on his back to pull victory from the jaws of defeat ala Brady, Rogers, etc.? NO. Was MR worth the $120m contract at the time he got it? NO. Is he worth the contract today given the rise in QB pay over the last few years? YES. At the end of the day MR is a good QB who will do what he is told and keep his nose clean. His arm strength is not great and his decision making at critical times has become very suspect lately. Question I have is whether MR is more part of the Falcons past versus their future. If I was a betting man I'd say the former as I think they need a younger, stronger, and more mobile QB to make a serious push for a Lombardi trophy in the next 5 years.

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@GeorgeJetsen A younger, stronger, more mobile QB got his butt spanked by superior D and an ancient, limp armed statue QB for a Lombardi Trophy. Keep buying the option hype, though, its gonna take over the NFL aaaannnyyydaayyy now.

OH:IO
OH:IO

FIRE SCHANNY

rutherfordtony5
rutherfordtony5

@JeffSchultzAJC IYAM, do or die for #2 this yr. Pro bowl RB behind same OL. no more excuses. w/harsh sched I can see us draft Watson @ #1

TOJacket
TOJacket

@rutherfordtony5 Tony........this is a blog, ease up on the #twitterlingo......as Carl would say......you talk funny...umhmm.

KeeperofthePop
KeeperofthePop

@JeffSchultzAJC so Andrew Luck's three years before bad play is your compass while Ryan's five year run of quality play isnt? Well then...

Ethan m
Ethan m

This dude is an Atlanta hater. Clearly mentally handicapped

TOJacket
TOJacket

Speaking of proving your worth........look in the mirror Schultzy!

noname
noname

Let's blame Ryan, not the years of no O-line, nor bringing in an OC called the QB killer nor the fact TD is still picking players.

Maybe after finding an OT, 2 OGs, 3 pass rushers, 2 LBs, a CB, 2 Ss, a C and an architect that can design a roof that won't collapse during a game with pumped in artificial fan noise they can pick up a franchise QB as an undrafted FA. Dream big, they do have 5 GMs.

E983
E983

Matt better hope he will bring his offensive numbers up next season. Several factors were working against him last season and if you look at each game I'm surprised he didn't wind up on IR. I'm still scratching my head and wondering how Thomas Dimitroff is still the GM. It's going to take this coach another 2 years to rebuild this team so they better hope that Matt Ryan can not give them 3 GOOD years but 3 GREAT years.

CJS13
CJS13

Ryan is a top tier QB. Kyle Shanahan is the problem. He refused to adapt his schemes to fit Ryan's strengths. Who would demand your QB to feed only 1 WR when there are 2 good ones out there? And that one WR is triple covered? That doesn't make sense. Fire Shanahan. I'm ready to start winning again.

E636L30
E636L30

@CJS13 Top tier QB think again & I'm a Falcons fan!!!!!!!!!!!

CJS13
CJS13

How can you rank QBs for the next TWO years? That is ridiculous. Anything could happen in 2 yrs. someone could get better, someone could get worse. I think a ranking like this should only be based on present and past performance, not future performance 2 yrs down the road.

WhopperDawg
WhopperDawg

Jeff, I think you are right on point. I have long argued on a board that I am sure you are familiar with that Ryan is not elite, but a good QB and I think that is what he is. I would put him in the middle of the pack, Cousins had a much better year than he did in his first full year as a starter for example. Not that I don't like Ryan, but he is what he is. He needs and all QBs need much more support and talent than is on the roster or will be on the roster over the next 2 years (thanks Dimitroff). Can he win a Super Bowl ala Flacco or Dilfer? Absolutely. Can he win one ala Brady, Rogers, Brees? Not a chance.

The best way to sum Ryan up is the Ryan litmus test that some unknown genius came up with which is:

If you would trade your QB for Ryan, you have a QB problem, if you wouldn't you probably are OK. And that is where he is, right smack dab in the middle of the pack.

DandreFalcon
DandreFalcon

It kills that our fans defend Matts bad season. Have we not forgot Matt has had bad offensive lines and put up better number. But this passed year is just not acceptable. He threw interceptions to guys like they were playing catch WITH NO PASS RUSH. He made a lot of decisions that like said above that an 100 million dollar QB just shouldn't make. I just hope it was just a bad year and not what he's become.

PS: That top ten list looks like a RYAN haters. Not a real top ten in the league when two rookies are in it. How can anyone take that list seriously!

RangeRover
RangeRover

And Cam Newton's defense got him to the Super Bowl, but Cam Newton alone lost the Super Bowl...he had the worst Super Bowl performance by a QB ever!

RangeRover
RangeRover

Jamies Winston ahead of Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford ahead of Matt Ryan.  This is overwhelming, convincing and indisputable evidence of the utter, unabashed ignorance of one Jeff Shultz who never donned a jock strap in his life...at least he didn't for a sporting purpose!  Maybe he's Caitlyn Schultz!  LOL!

TOJacket
TOJacket

Matt R. is much better than Matt S.

KatieR620
KatieR620

Matt Stafford? and you're accusing your readers of not watching games objectively?


He's been fools gold since before he was at Georgia,  he's really good at getting paid,  and throwing the ball really far... winning anything ever? Not that guy.

ATLFan
ATLFan

Prove his worth???!!! I guess 24 Fourth Quarter comebacks, 31 game winning drives, and 3 Pro Bowl appearances in 8 years don't mean much in your book.
And oh yes, most of that time was behind terrible offensive lines and a mediocre (at best) running game.  The Falcons have problems (like an offensive coordinator who refuses to adapt his scheme to his talent) but QB isn't one of them.

E636L30
E636L30

Maybe but after 8 years in the league his decision making hasn't improved enough to be called a top tier QB.
Every QB throws ints but its when he throws them that deflates a drive, a scoring opportunity, a 3rd down conversion 7 eventually games!!!!!

E636L30
E636L30

& eventually LOL!!!!!

4DaBirds
4DaBirds

Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Ben Rothlisberger benefit from having good offensive lines and very good defenses that give them good field position, turnovers, protecting leads and rarely playing from behind. Ryan has only once had an OL that was okay at run and pass protection (even then it was still suspect), but most of the time the OL has been below average. The Falcons haven't assembled a decent defense since 1998, and since then have only fielded terrible to mediocre defenses. 


All in all, I'd only put 4 or 5 guys ahead of Ryan on this list. Ryan's decision making wasn't very good at times last year, but neither was the route running of receivers, pass protection or play calling from the sidelines. Ryan consistently passes for more than 4K even with the musical chairs of offensive coordinators that have been here since he was drafted. 


Bottom line: build a defense that is very good...Not mediocre...not a bunch of cast offs or draft and free agent bust. The only time the Falcons went to the Super Bowl they had a very good D. Every team that gets to and wins a Super Bowl has a very good D. There are QB's out there who are not nearly as good as Ryan that have rings, and it's because they had the support of a good D. Franchise QB's are hard to find, but there a many good D players, you just have to be willing to pay for them.

HonestInformed
HonestInformed

Most of the success Matt Ryan had last season was when he was NOT operating the Kyle Shanahan offense.......the team had several come from behind victories using the no-huddle approach (Matt Ryan calling plays at the line of scrimmage) and then after the bye week Shanahan found a way to run his useless system even during the no-huddle periods. This is when the offense really struggled and opposing teams jumped routes in an attempt to "predict" who Shanahan selected as the primary receiver for the given play. People who really know football and watched the games closely know exactly what I am describing. This is exactly what happened at Washington (destroyed Rex Grossman & RGIII), Houston (destroyed Matt Schaub) and Cleveland (destroyed Brian Hoyer & Johnny Manziel). Wake up people!

E636L30
E636L30

Oh I agree he does stink but that's what happens when you go bargain hunting!!!!!

HonestInformed
HonestInformed


Matt Ryan is not the problem; Kyle Shanahan is the problem. Shanahan will use the media to focus ALL of the blame on Matt Ryan just like he has done at every other place he has coached. I seriously do not understand what the Falcons decision makers are thinking on this topic?????????????????????????????????????????


HonestInformed
HonestInformed

You have got to be kidding.....right?? Kyle Shanahan has hindered/destroyed EVERY quarterback he has coached with his horrible passing offensive scheme.........do some real research and you will see exactly what I am talking about. The best way to help Matt Ryan rebound from last season is to fire Shanahan immediately. Shanahan is a proven QB killer. His system is one primary receiver; if he is not open check down to a RB or TE.........Shanahan actually tells the QB who to throw the ball to PRIOR to the team lining up at the line of scrimmage (in the huddle). ARE YOU KIDDING ME????????