Smith to the Redskins means Kirk Cousins is headed out of Washington and set to secure a lucrative deal with a quarterback-needy team. Former NFL agent Joel Corry, now a contract and salary cap analyst for CBS Sports, sees this as a win for Ryan, who is entering the final year of his deal, and his agent, Tom Condon, as they prepare to negotiate with the Falcons.
"If Cousins is unrestricted, I fully expect him to be the highest paid player in the league," Corry said hours before the Smith trade. "Then you have a new floor for Matt Ryan. By the 15th or 16th of March, [Cousin's] done. That deal will be in place. Let's say some team goes hog wild and makes Cousins the first $30-million-per-year player. You don't have a choice but to make Matt Ryan the second and give him more than Cousins."
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, also represented by Condon, established the current floor for quarterbacks. Stafford, who turns 30 next week, became the league's highest-paid player just before last season when he signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension that included $92 million guaranteed and a $50 million signing bonus.
Corry envisioned a scenario in which Condon would go to the Falcons and use Stafford as a bargaining chip for Ryan's deal, explaining how Ryan deserves more after earning the 2016 MVP and making it to the Super Bowl. Stafford has yet to win a playoff game.
"You got one guy who is the highest-paid player who has never done anything in the playoffs, has never been in the MVP, and it's a year later," Corry explained. "I don't really see how the Falcons could say Matt Ryan isn't the player Matthew Stafford is."
Now if Cousins becomes the highest-paid player, Condon would appear to have just as much ammunition, if not more, considering Cousins has yet to win a playoff game and is coming off a 7-9 season. Ryan, who is 3-5 in the playoffs, is set to turn 33 in May, while Cousins turns 30 in August.
Here's the wild card: Aaron Rodgers. The 34-year-old Green Bay Packers star and two-time MVP figured to be the first quarterback to reach the $30 million per year mark before the path was cleared for Cousins to become a free agent. Would it be wise for Condon and Ryan to wait for Rodgers' deal to unfold?
"I would, from the standpoint of if [Rodgers] sets the bar higher than what you're asking for or what you think you're going to get, then that gives you justification to ask for more," Corry said.
"Say if when Ryan goes in, the bar is still Stafford. [The Falcons] are going to want to put him as close to Stafford as possible. I don't see how they could get him signed below Stafford, at all. Now if Rodgers goes out and he gets $30 million per year, and Stafford is $27 million, then you're now talking the midpoint of $28.5 million. So, yeah, there's some merit to waiting. But if the timetable for Green Bay and Rodgers isn't what it was in the past [April of 2013], you can only wait so long."
Ryan, the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, last signed a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension in July of 2013. The contract included $59 million guaranteed. Ryan received a $28 million signing bonus and $12 million option bonus.
Corry sees no reason why the Falcons would deviate much from the structure this time around.
"If they go with the signing-bonus/option-bonus structure, then the signing bonus isn't going to be the same as Stafford's because it's really essentially a two-tier signing bonus," Corry said. "You're going to prorate the option bonus beginning in Year 2. Between the option and signing, it probably would have to be at least $55 million. It depends on how much cap room they would want to create for this year.
"Tom Condon has done this structure before. If they do it, it will be the same type of protections for Ryan as he had the last time."
The Falcons haven't put a timetable on Ryan's extension, but they've historically gotten such lucrative deals completed before training camp. General manager Thomas Dimitroff anticipates Ryan's new contract creating more cap flexibility to sign other players such as free safety Ricardo Allen, a restricted free agent, and kicker Matt Bryant, an unrestricted free agent. As things stand now, Ryan's '18 salary cap number is $21.65 million, with Ryan due a base salary of $19.25 million. The extension would significantly reduce the base salary.
"His deal should create cap room, but it's just a matter of how much they want to create," Corry said. "If they do the signing-option bonus structure, it will be more. If they go just straight signing bonus, it would be less. But either event, they're going to create at least $7 million in cap room.
"Let's say you go $1.25 million as a base [for '18], and you want to give him a $55 million signing bonus. Then, that's $11 million proration, so that $12.25 million [against the cap]. And you had the $19.25 million base salary to begin with, so that's $7 million in cap room you created right there."
We'll see how it plays out for Ryan and the Falcons.