The Atlanta Falcons traded arguably the best player in franchise history on Monday, shipping Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick. In doing so, Atlanta incurred the largest dead cap hit in NFL history at a whopping $40.525 million. It was yet another example of how incredibly mismanaged the Falcons are.
Back in 2018, the Falcons signed Ryan to a five-year, $150 million extension with $100 million in guaranteed money. In each of the last four offseasons they've had to restructure that deal. It's been an albatross around the franchise's neck since he signed it, but that's the cost of having a franchise quarterback these days. The structure of the deal was just a mess for Atlanta from the start.
And the problem with taking that massive cap hit now is the team still has a massive hole at quarterback, to go along with a lack of depth and talent at wide receiver and offensive line. And now they're missing $40 million they could have used to fill those spots.
The Falcons are in this position because they alienated Ryan by very publicly pursuing Deshaun Watson. Once that happened there was no way Ryan would be back with the franchise.
The 2022 season is shaping up to be one big tank for Atlanta to get a franchise quarterback in what should be a loaded 2023 NFL Draft. But the Falcons have bumbled their way to this point. In the 2021 draft they made a win-now pick by selecting Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick. They did so in an attempt to get Ryan another weapon. While I love Pitts and he's likely to be a perennial Pro Bowler, he's a tight end. You don't take those guys in the top five because their relatively long-term value isn't worth it.
By making that pick, the Falcons passed on higher-impact players like Ja'Marr Chase, Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater and more. Oh, and there were also several quarterbacks available who would have made trading Ryan away and taking the cap hit much more palatable. Taking Pitts instead of Chase looks particularly bad in hindsight after Calvin Ridley's suspension.
At this point the Falcons should just trade All-Pro defensive end Grady Jarrett as well. If you're going to tank, go all-in. It'll be years before they're a contender, so they might as well strip things down and build from the bottom.
The Falcons need to nail their next few drafts to get out of the hole they're currently in. They can start with the eighth pick in this year's draft and the two second-rounders they possess (No. 43 and No. 58). But it's going to be a slow road back thanks to horrible cap and draft asset mismanagement.