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Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Updated: May 21, 9:06 AM ET
No. 3 overall pick Ryan to get $34.75M guaranteed from Falcons

By John Clayton

Matt Ryan officially became the face of the Atlanta Falcons when he was selected as the third pick in the NFL draft. On Tuesday, the Falcons rewarded him with plenty of green.

First Not Always Best

The Falcons better hope Matt Ryan is more John Elway than Tim Couch. Of the quarterbacks taken in the top three picks since 1970, only three are in the Hall of Fame.

2008 3 Matt Ryan ATL
2007 1 JaMarcus Russell OAK 373
2006 3 Vince Young TEN 4745
2005 1 Alex Smith SFO 4679
2004 1 Eli Manning SDG 11385
2003 1 Carson Palmer CIN 14899
2002 1 David Carr HOU 14026
2002 3 Joey Harrington DET 14693
2001 1 Michael Vick ATL 11505
1999 1 Tim Couch CLE 11131
1999 2 Donovan McNabb PHI 25404
1999 3 Akili Smith CIN 2212
1998 1 Peyton Manning IND 41626
1998 2 Ryan Leaf SDG 3666
1995 3 Steve McNair HOU 31304
1994 3 Heath Shuler WAS 3691
1993 1 Drew Bledsoe NWE 44611
1993 2 Rick Mirer SEA 11969
1990 1 Jeff George IND 27602
1989 1 Troy Aikman* DAL 32942
1987 1 Vinny Testaverde TAM 46233
1986 3 Jim Everett HOU 34837
1983 1 John Elway* BAL 51475
1979 3 Jack Thompson CIN 5315
1975 1 Steve Bartkowski ATL 24124
1973 2 Bert Jones BAL 18190
1971 1 Jim Plunkett NWE 25882
1971 2 Archie Manning NOR 23911
1971 3 Dan Pastorini HOU 18515
1970 1 Terry Bradshaw* PIT 27989
1970 3 Mike Phipps CLE 10506
* -- Hall of Fame

Ryan became the second top draft choice to sign when he accepted a six-year, $72 million contract that included $34.75 million in guarantees. Less than a week before the draft, tackle Jake Long signed a five-year, $57.75 million deal with the Miami Dolphins.

The announcement of the new deal came with smiles, confident talk of the future and no mention of Michael Vick, the first pick in 2001 who signed a $130 million extension, the richest in the league at the time, in December 2005.

Owner Arthur Blank and the Falcons were especially eager to sign Ryan, avoid a holdout and help the franchise move away from the Vick era with new general manager Thomas Dimitroff, new coach Mike Smith and now a new quarterback.

"The circumstances are always different when it comes to a player, and in Matt's case the research that Thomas did and Coach Smith did, they were extremely comfortable in Matt and what Matt stood for and what he's going to be for the long term," said team president Rich McKay, the Falcons' lead negotiator.

"I don't think there was any hesitancy because of the experience we just had."

Vick last year began a 23-month prison sentence after he confessed to bankrolling a dogfighting ring.

Long received $30 million guaranteed in his deal with the Dolphins. Last year's No. 1 overall pick, quarterback JaMarcus Russell, got $32 million guaranteed from the Raiders.

The Falcons' haste in finalizing the deal with Ryan received a boost when word leaked the NFL owners, who met Tuesday in Atlanta, were about to opt out of a labor deal with the players' union in 2011. Before the owners' unanimous vote, the deal could not have gone through 2013.

The Falcons and Ryan's agent, Tom Condon, already had agreed on six years as the basis for their deal, and to make that happen they needed to complete the negotiations by Tuesday.

"We couldn't have gotten a six-year contract if we didn't get this deal done by 4 today," Blank said.

"That was the urgency in getting it done today. The structure of the contract would not have been permissible because of the opt out."

McKay said he was involved in negotiations until 3 a.m. Tuesday and started again at 6 a.m.

Ryan was the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft. During his career at Boston College, Ryan completed 807 of 1,347 passes for 9,313 yards and 56 touchdowns.

Ryan worked behind quarterbacks Chris Redman and Joey Harrington at his first minicamp with the team this month. He said he'll enter training camp expecting to play immediately.

"I think that's certainly the goal, to prepare to play, to do everything you can to be on the field and play," Ryan said. "That's what I'm going to do. I think I did well picking things up in minicamp. I know there's still a lot to learn. I think I've done pretty well so far."

Ryan, 6-foot-5, ranked third in the nation with his school-record 4,507 yards passing in 2007 and was the first quarterback taken in the draft. He and Dimitroff promised to avoid extended talks that could threaten Ryan's status for training camp.

New coach Mike Smith is not opposed to having a rookie start at quarterback.

"If he's the best player, whether he's a rookie quarterback or rookie offensive lineman or rookie linebacker, we want those guys to come in here and compete," Smith said this month. "We're going to put the best player out there on the field."

Ryan is important as the future leader on the field and the immediate new marketing star.

Redman, Harrington and Byron Leftwich shared the starting job last season as Vick began serving his sentence. Vick has been suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Leftwich was released after the season. Ryan will join Harrington, Redman and D.J. Shockley in the quarterback competition in training camp.

Redman, who finished the 2007 season as the starter, is the favorite to open 2008 with the job. Redman worked with the first-team offense with newly signed running back Michael Turner in minicamp.

"It's highly unusual to get a first-round pick this high in the first round signed in the month of May, and it's indicative of the kind of person he is," Blank said of Ryan.

"We're anxious that he be part of the team and show that kind of leadership."

Ryan said he wasn't surprised to have the deal done so soon.

"I knew everyone had made the commitment and wanted to get it done," Ryan said. "I'm just excited and happy. ... I'm proud of the fact I'm an Atlanta Falcon."

Blank said he wanted to sign Ryan early to avoid a repeat of Russell's holdout with the Raiders last year. Russell missed all of training camp, signed three days before the 2007 season and made his only start in the final game of the season.

"We don't want to go through a situation like they went through last year in Oakland," Blank said. "This young man wants to come in and compete."

McKay said he experienced a holdout while with Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers drafted quarterback Trent Dilfer No. 6 overall in 1994.

"I really felt it affected the player and it affected the franchise," McKay said.

"I thought it was not just the right message for the franchise but it's the right thing to do for the quarterback if you can get him in camp on time so that he doesn't at all fall behind and have one of those rookie years where he doesn't catch up."

John Clayton covers the NFL for The Associated Press contributed to this report.