Commentary

Will Matt Ryan chase the big score?

It's risky, but everything is in place for Falcons QB to try for a Flacco-sized deal

Originally Published: June 13, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Matt Ryanprobably won't, but he has the clout to pull a Joe Flacco. He could take a risk, as Flacco did a year ago, and play out the final year of his rookie deal. Ryan could bet on himself to make even more money than the Atlanta Falcons invariably will offer him once contract negotiations get serious.

It's unlikely Ryan will take that tact, but why not? He is as good as Flacco. Ryan has the regular-season success, the arm strength and the penchant for orchestrating fourth-quarter comebacks and leading game-winning drives. He has a solid offensive line, one of the best receiving corps in the National Football League, a future Hall of Fame tight end and a new running back who will provide the Falcons an added playmaker out of the backfield.

Opposing defenses thought the Falcons' screen game was a handful last year. It will be even more so with running back Steven Jackson, Atlanta's big offseason acquisition.

This team is loaded and stable entering the sixth year of the Mike Smith/Thomas Dimitroff era, in large part because the head coach and general manager were right about Ryan in the 2008 draft. In January, on his fourth try, Ryan was able to check off one of those nagging boxes on his career to-do list: Win a postseason game.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan, Joe Flacco
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIt's hard not to compare Matt Ryan's current situation to the one Joe Flacco faced last year.

Now, he is ready to check off another: Win a Super Bowl.

The NFL season is long and grinding, and injuries are impossible to predict. Anything can happen over the course of 17 weeks, but Atlanta is in as good of a position as any team to take the next step and play for a Super Bowl.

Ryan certainly believes that can happen. If he postponed contract talks, not to be difficult or defiant but to do what Flacco did a year ago, Ryan could prove he deserves top dollar. He could prove he belongs in the upper echelon with Flacco and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, not in the next tier with Tony Romo.

Ryan is that talented, that proven, and has that much potential.

Flacco's gamble a year ago netted him $35 million more than the Ravens offered before the season began, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said. For winning the Super Bowl, Flacco got a six-year, $120.6 million extension that included $52 million guaranteed and was the richest contract in NFL history until Rodgers surpassed it.

The gamble could have cost Flacco millions, but he was steadfast in his belief that he deserved a bigger contract. And then Flacco backed it up in the most impressive way possible.

"I think it's different for everyone," Ryan said Tuesday. "You know, I don't know the behind-the-scenes stuff. I don't want to speak on someone else's business, but [Flacco] played great down the stretch, and he did exactly what he needed to do to win the Super Bowl. I was happy for him. You never want to see anybody else win but yourself, but at the end of the day that's the case sometimes."

Ryan didn't want to discuss his contract situation or how Flacco handled his. He would not say whether negotiations have begun with the Falcons or, if they have, when he would like them concluded. Ryan said he wants to remain in Atlanta playing for "a great organization" and with "great players," and the conventional wisdom is that the Falcons want to get Ryan re-signed before training camp starts next month.

"I'm confident both sides will get it done, whenever that time is," Ryan said. "I don't want to discuss that. I'm confident it will get done."

Fair enough.

But look at Ryan and Flacco's careers -- an inescapable comparison for two quarterbacks who were first-round picks in 2008 and joined teams with new head coaches -- and they are strikingly similar.

In five seasons, Flacco has a 54-26 record as a starter, a 60.5 completion percentage, 102 touchdown passes, 56 interceptions, 10 fourth-quarter comebacks and 15 game-winning drives. Ryan has a 56-22 record in two fewer starts, with a 62.7 completion percentage, 127 touchdown passes, 60 interceptions, 16 fourth-quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives, including seven last season.

The major difference, statistically speaking, is in their postseason record. Flacco has won a playoff game in all five seasons he has played and has a 9-4 postseason record that includes three AFC title game appearances and a Super Bowl victory. Ryan has made the playoffs in four of his five seasons but just got his first victory, over Seattle, in January before losing at home to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game.

"We have everything we need in order to win it," Ryan said. "We haven't done it yet, and you're not sure how it's going to shake out, but certainly I feel that way going into it."

Ryan spent the first 6-8 weeks of the offseason rehabilitating the sprained left shoulder he suffered against the 49ers in January. He said he also has tried, as he did last offseason, to improve his physical conditioning and improve mentally by watching tape and studying, among other things, how defenses tried to take away the Falcons' screen game on third down.

Ryan did not lobby Tony Gonzalez to return for a 17th season -- "The lobbying I did over the course of the last four years was enough," Ryan said -- but was thrilled when the tight end agreed to play one more year. And he has fostered a friendship with Jackson, who has called and texted Ryan during the offseason, trying to pick up code words so that once the season starts, the two are on the same page.

If Ryan is worried about getting a new contract, he certainly didn't let that be known. He is right that it will get done, and probably sooner rather than later. But if he took the extraordinary gamble Flacco did and bet on himself, Ryan could prove he is worth even more than he probably will get otherwise.