Matt Ryan may be on the move after 14 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. The franchise is currently heavily linked to Deshaun Watson, and given Watson's personal connections to the organization, it is no surprise that the Falcons are thinking about trading for the embattled superstar quarterback.
There are still many steps to take before a trade for Watson. But should this be a sign of the big move to come, the team has to do something with Ryan.
Ryan's contract is perhaps the worst in the league amongst quarterbacks. He is a good player who threw 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, with a total of 3,968 yards last season. It's a far cry from his MVP season only five years ago but he also was throwing to a an underwhelming group of wideouts on a very bad team. The problem is, Ryan's cap hit is $36 million for 2022 and his dead cap hit is an astounding $55 million. NFL money can be moved around really easily to circumvent cap problems but that's still a gigantic number that will require quite a bit of gymnastics to work out if Ryan were to be sent elsewhere.
But we'll leave those problems for cap nerds. If the Falcons decide they want Deshaun Watson, here are three possible trade destinations for Ryan.
The most obvious outcome to any Watson-Falcons trade involves sending Ryan back to Houston. The Texans have oodles of cap space (because they have no good players) and can absorb his contract pretty easily. Ryan is obviously quite a bit better than Davis Mills, even in the twilight of his career, and would give the Texans a respectable performance week-in and week-out for the fans in the stands. Or Houston could flip Ryan to somebody else for more assets and fully embrace the rebuild process.
Regardless of what they want to do with him, Ryan going to Houston is a likely outcome here.
Like their divisional foes, the Colts also do not have a starting-caliber quarterback on the roster and have lots of cap space. Unlike their divisional rivals, the Colts have a ton of good players and a roster ready to win right now. If Ryan hits the open market, Indy will be in the running. The Carson Wentz trade freed up enough money that the team totals over $60 million in cap space this offseason, enough to take on Ryan's contract and then some.
He is probably a bit better than Wentz at this stage in his career -- Ryan is a better decision-maker but Wentz had the arm talent Ryan has always lacked. Frank Reich could definitely make it work, and Ryan is a respected leader in the Falcons' clubhouse. He'd fit in Indianapolis and could be what the Colts need to get back to the postseason, even if he won't elevate their ceiling like Matthew Stafford did for the Rams.
Just like the Colts, the Seahawks freed up a metric ton of cap space by trading their starting quarterback. With Russell Wilson out of the picture, Seattle has $41 million to play with this offseason and the team hasn't been super active in the opening days of free agency. The Seahawks will likely be in the running for Watson, but Ryan could qualify as a decent runner-up prize. The reasoning to acquire him is the same as Watson -- Pete Carroll is old and so are the top contributors on the roster, meaning nobody has time for an extended rebuild.
Ryan wouldn't cost nearly as much as Watson in terms of compensation. In fact, the Falcons may very well have to give the Seahawks something to convince them to take Ryan's contract. If Seattle pulls that off, they leave the 2022 offseason with a reliable starter under center and a bunch of shiny new assets from the draft. It makes sense, even if it is less exciting as far as the on-field product is concerned than Watson.