One NFL writer believes the AFC North is the best destination for Ryan if the veteran moves on in 2022. In fact, one team from the division has been advised “to do whatever it takes” to acquire the experienced passer.
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Ryan Identified as Replacement for Fellow Former 1st-Rounder
Ryan knows the pressures of being a first-round draft pick expected to be the face of a franchise. He’s been in that role since the Falcons took him off the board third overall in 2008.
Ben Roethlisberger has been dealing with that pressure for longer. Big Ben was the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ first-round pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Now, the 39-year-old is likely to walk away once this season finishes, per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.
Roethlisberger calling it a career would leave the Steelers searching for a quarterback. The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz believes that search should start and end with Ryan: “The Falcons should keep him. But if they don’t, the Steelers should do whatever it takes.”
Ryan moving on may be welcomed by some Falcons’ fans, but Ruiz believes the 14-year-pro has a lot left in the tank: “The numbers don’t look great on their own this season, but if you turn on Ryan’s film and squint hard enough, he still looks like the quarterback who was deservedly named MVP in 2016 … just with a few miles per hour shaved off his fastball.”
Ruiz has a point, despite Ryan struggling to turn the 7-9 Falcons into winners this season. He’s suffering behind a faltering offensive line, with Dukes and Bell 929 host Mike Bell sharing numbers that emphasize Ryan’s plight:
Relentless pressure isn’t the only problem Ryan has been dealing with through 16 games. He’s also been surrounded by a paper-thin supporting cast.
Ryan has had to work without his primary wide receiver, after Calvin Ridley took time away from the game for his mental wellbeing. Aside from record-breaking rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, Ryan hasn’t had many other targets at his disposal.
It speaks volumes that the Falcons’ leader in receptions, Cordarrelle Patterson, is also topping the team’s rushing charts. The Atlanta offense runs through Patterson and Pitts, and every team facing Ryan knows that.
It’s why Ryan should be applauded for posting historic numbers. Falcons Football Communications writer John Deighton detailed what’s at stake for Ryan in Week 18’s finale against the New Orleans Saints:
Perhaps Ryan is preparing for his last game as a Falcon. If so, he’ll have something in common with Roethlisberger, who is set to bring the curtain down on his Steelers tenure against the Baltimore Ravens.
Ryan to Steelers Buzz Becoming a Theme
Ruiz isn’t the first writer to posit the idea of Ryan playing in Pittsburgh next season. The same scenario was described by ESPN Insider Jeremy Fowler in early December. Part of Fowler’s thinking was based on the idea Ryan might be released because of his significant cap hit the next two years.
A bloated contract is a potential pitfall Ruiz also addressed: “Ryan’s cap number for 2022 stands at $48.7 million. But the Falcons might be willing to pay a chunk of that just to get a fresh start financially, and Ryan may be willing to restructure the deal for the opportunity to chase a ring.”
The Steelers swapping one veteran under center for another makes sense. What’s more difficult to fathom is where the Falcons will go at quarterback if Ryan is allowed to find a new home.
This year’s free-agent market isn’t exactly ripe with elite passers. Names such as Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor and Mitchell Trubisky aren’t likely to set pulses racing.
Yet, all three would be in the Falcons’ range financially, considering the team is projected by Spotrac.com to have as little as $11,921,904 worth of cap space. The problem is none of those are a viable upgrade over Ryan.
Falcons’ general manager Terry Fontenot would be smarter drafting Ryan’s successor and letting the rookie sit for a season before trading the established man. Pro Football Focus analyst Eric Eager recently a compiled a mock draft involving the Falcons taking Pitt’s Kenny Pickett with the 10th pick and letting him ride the bench until Ryan can be moved on at a more cap-friendly cost.
Using a first-round pick on a rookie backup would be a tough sell when the Falcons have pressing needs along the offensive line. A sack-shy defense is also shorn of talented pass-rushers.
Deferring an upgrade of talent in key areas would likely lead to some short-term pain. Yet, any temporary setbacks would be worth it to secure a long-term fix at football’s most important position.