Now 0-5 after a dispiriting loss to the division rival Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons are making drastic changes. Late Sunday night, the team announced the firings of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who had been with the team for six (technically five-plus, for Quinn) and 13 seasons, respectively.
It wasn't that long ago that the Falcons were one of the best teams in the NFL. They made the Super Bowl during the 2016 season, famously blowing a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots. They were able to stave off too much regression the following season, going 10-6 and making the playoffs, but they backslid to 7-9 in both 2018 and 2019 before getting off to a horrendous start this year.
We don't yet know who will lead the Falcons next, but we do know they'll have some big questions to answer about a roster that is clearly lacking and yet has commitments for 2021 that would already have them over the cap. One of the biggest questions, assuming the team is going into rebuilding mode, is what will happen with quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan is 35 years old, pretty clearly declining, and due to count for $40,912,500 on Atlanta's books next season. Atlanta would not save any money against the cap by cutting Ryan next year, though. He'd actually count for over $49 million on the Falcons' books if they were to just cleanly move on. A trade, though, would make more financial sense. Ryan would count for just $17,912,500 if he were to be traded after June 1.
So, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, speaking to the media a day after cutting his coach and general manager loose, was asked about Ryan's future. "I hope he will be in our plans moving forward," Blank said, before noting that he won't be the one making that decision.
It's unclear if Blank meant that Ryan or the team's next general manager will be the one making the decision. Ryan has been a very good player for a long time and it would make sense that the team would want to do right by him, but it's also easy to imagine it being pretty difficult to accomplish that while at the same time doing right by the Falcons' team-building plan.
The rest of the roster needs a pretty big overhaul, but the decision regarding what to do at quarterback likely has to come first for whomever takes the position. If the Falcons want to go for a quicker turnaround, keeping Ryan could make some sense. But if the rest of the season goes like the first five games did, they might be in position to draft his successor, which would make cutting him loose an easier call.