- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After making Matt Ryan one of the NFL’s best-paid players, Arthur Blank got a little nostalgic.
I had a chance to sit down with Blank for a one-on-one chat Thursday evening and the owner of the Atlanta Falcons reflected on just how far his quarterback has helped his franchise come after it hit rock bottom in 2007, following the Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick fiascos.
“Matt was a great choice for us in 2008,’’ Blank said. “People forget that there was a lot of pressure on the organization from a lot of different directions. I really give general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith a tremendous amount of credit for seeing Matt for what he was and what he is. And seeing his maturity on and off the field for the last five years and seeing him get the franchise to where he is today, along with a lot of players and coaches, is very rewarding to me.’’
Petrino abruptly quit during the 2007 season, his first coaching the club. At the same time, Vick, the former franchise quarterback, was facing charges for running a dog-fighting ring and eventually went to prison.
“It was a very difficult time for the franchise,’’ Blank said. “A very difficult time for the fans. It’s not about me. It’s really about our fans. When I bought the team in 2001, I had aspirations and we went through some trials and tribulations. The focus on hiring Thomas and Smitty was really on values and building the organization around people with values, not for the quick fix but for a long, sustainable run. Obviously, we needed a franchise quarterback and I think we were able to make a great choice. He’s a fine young man, who really has played beautifully for the last five years.’’