$30 million man: Matt Ryan’s deal no surprise; now he must deliver

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan becoming the highest-paid player in the league — at least for now — shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

When Ryan put together his MVP season in 2016, owner Arthur Blank made it clear Ryan would be rewarded for putting the Falcons in position to win a Super Bowl. The Falcons ultimately fell short, losing to the New England Patriots.

“He needs to be compensated well, certainly,” Blank told ESPN prior that season’s Super Bowl. “And he will be.”

As of today, Ryan is the league’s highest-paid player thanks to a five-year contract extension ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported is worth $30 million per year and $100 million guaranteed. He tops other quarterbacks such as Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers) and Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings), who don’t have as many postseason wins combined as Ryan.

Ryan’s deal likely will be surpassed by Aaron Rodgers when he and the Green Bay Packers reach a deal on an extension. Whatever the case, the Falcons certainly believe Ryan is the guy who will lead them back to the Super Bowl.

Ryan, who turns 33 two weeks from Thursday, has a 4-6 all-time playoff record. Critics say he is a tad below the elite quarterback level which includes the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Rodgers because Ryan has yet to win a Super Bowl. Being close doesn’t count when you consider Ryan and the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.

The Falcons firmly believe Ryan has what it takes to not only get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl, but bring back a championship. The offense wasn’t as dominant last season as it was during the Super Bowl run under Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach in San Francisco. However, the Falcons expect a big jump for Ryan and the rest of his teammates in Year 2 of Steve Sarkisian’s offense. As Ryan has said repeatedly, it’s all about finding consistency.

Arming Ryan with new weapons should help. The Falcons drafted wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round with hopes his speed and sharp route running will complement Julio Jones. Of course, the Falcons have the talented backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, with rookie Ito Smith now added to the mix. And the addition of a true blocking fullback — either Daniel Marx from Stanford or Luke McNitt — could help the running and passing games alike.

There remain questions about the offensive line, particularly at guard, where the Falcons don’t seem built to contend with some of the better interior defenders in the league (Aaron Donald/Ndamukong Suh and Fletcher Cox/Michael Bennett come to mind). And there is growing concern about Jones’ absence from voluntary workouts and the possibility of the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver being on the verge of a contract dispute.

If those issues don’t become major obstacles, and Sarkisian finds the right variety in his playcalling to reignite an offense that scored a league-high 33.8 points per game two seasons ago, Ryan could be right back in the MVP conversation.

Individual awards, however, mean little if they don’t lead to a championship, something the Falcons have never enjoyed in their history. Ryan doesn’t want a lack of a Super Bowl victory hanging over his head for the remainder of his career, no matter how much money he collects.

The Falcons, under coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, have built a top-10 defense based on speed and physicality. The moves made on Day 3 of the draft were all about bolstering special teams.

Yet the bulk of the burden falls on Ryan to make plays and put the Falcons over the top.

“We’re closer than maybe some other people think,” Ryan told ESPN last month. “To get over the hump, we’ve got to make the plays. And I’ve got to make the plays when they present themselves.”

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