FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There’s an unwritten clause that comes along with Matt Ryan's five-year contract extension for more than $100 million, which was finalized Thursday afternoon.
He’s getting paid in a manner similar to Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco, so he’d better start playing like them for more than a 16-game regular season. There’s one thing those five quarterbacks have done that Ryan hasn’t: win a Super Bowl.
All five of those guys won a Super Bowl before fully cashing in. The Falcons, who once got burned by giving Michael Vick a huge contract, didn’t wait to lock up Ryan, who was headed into the final year of his contract.
But that’s where the caveat comes in. The Falcons have put up the money, and the expectation is that Ryan will reward them with a Super Bowl, or Super Bowls.
The contract extension is a very strong sign that the Falcons believe Ryan has what it takes to win the big one, just like Flacco (who came in the same 2008 draft class) did last season for Baltimore before collecting his bounty. It’s also a sign that the Falcons want Ryan to remain the face of their franchise as they move into a new stadium in 2017.
But the contract is also a leap of faith.
The facts are that Ryan has been about as good as any quarterback in the league over the past five regular seasons, but that hasn’t led to much postseason success. In Ryan’s tenure, the Falcons have won just one postseason game. That came last season against Seattle, and that win could have been viewed as a sign that Ryan has what it takes to win in January and February.
But that was wiped out by what happened the following week. Ryan and the Falcons jumped out to a 17-point lead against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. But they ended up losing that game and, in the process, squandering all the benefits of a No. 1 seed for the second time in three seasons.
There’s a growing perception out there that coach Mike Smith and Ryan don’t have what it takes to win it all.
Is that fair?
Maybe not, but that view isn’t going to change until, or unless, the Falcons win a Super Bowl.
Is that perception accurate?
I don’t think so. I think Ryan has what it takes to win a Super Bowl. He’s talented, poised and respected as a leader by his teammates. The past postseason woes haven’t been all his fault. The defense and the lack of a running game played big roles in the San Francisco loss.
The Falcons went out and revamped their defense by adding defensive end Osi Umenyiora and drafting Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. They spiced up the running game by replacing Michael Turner with Steven Jackson.
Add Jackson to wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, and Ryan might have the best skill-position supporting cast of any quarterback in the league.
The Falcons have done their part by surrounding Ryan with talent and paying him like an elite quarterback. Now it’s time for Ryan to live up to his part of the deal.
Now it’s time for Ryan to win a Super Bowl.