The Atlanta Falcons are already in contract talks with Matt Ryan on terms of a long-term deal, but sources tell Pro Football Talk that negotiations will ramp up in earnest beginning July 4. Ryan is expected to hold out for big money--likely somewhere between Tony Romo's $16 million per season and Joe Flacco's $20 million per season--and whatever figure the two parties land on could have far-reaching consequences on the Falcons' roster.
For starters, the team may not be able to sign Richard Seymour. Last we heard the Falcons were waiting to work out Ryan's deal before addressing the veteran defensive lineman, but according to PFT's source, the Falcons' cap situation won't look any better after Ryan is signed than it does now.
Ryan has a $12 million cap number for 2013. A long-term deal often drops a player's cap number, but if Ryan is going to be paid at or near the top of the market (i.e., somewhere between $16 million and $20 million per year), it's unlikely that the cap number will be any lower than $12 million in 2013.
Ryan's situation is very similar to what Flacco dealt with when negotiating with the Baltimore Ravens before last season. Flacco wanted a long-term deal set before he played the final year of his contract. The two sides negotiated, but the Ravens opted not to give Flacco the roughly $15 million per season he was asking. The Ravens then went on to win the Super Bowl and promptly paid Flacco the richest contract in NFL history.
The Falcons may be happy to pay Ryan similar money or more if he leads the team to a Super Bowl victory this year. Then again, Flacco's situation may also spur the team to get a deal done sooner than later, before the market price for a franchise quarterback blossoms yet again.
The Falcons also have the option of handing Ryan the team's franchise tag in 2014 if a new contract still hasn't been worked out by that point. Of course, that move could introduce even more headaches. An exclusive franchise tag would still come out to nearly $20 million. A non-exclusive tag would be cheaper, but would also risk losing Ryan to another team willing to give up two first-round draft picks.
Atlanta has a messy situation on its hands. At the heart of it is the question of just how much a good quarterback means to a franchise. A hefty contract could make it difficult for the Falcons to sign the depth needed for a championship run. Then again, given how rare a true franchise quarterback really is, the team may have no choice.