With free agency approaching, we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Atlanta Falcons.
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Matt Ryan -- $21,650,000
Matt Schaub -- $3,500,000
Key stat: Ryan was the only quarterback among 32 players in the NFL who played every snap in 2017 (he had 1,024). The Falcons played in 11 games decided by six points or fewer, so they needed Ryan to play, and he has been durable throughout his career; he hasn't missed a start over the past eight seasons.
Money matters: The Falcons signed Ryan, the third overall draft pick in 2008, to a five-year, $103.75 million contract in July 2013, a contract that included $59 million guaranteed. He rewarded them by turning in an MVP season in 2016, leading to a Super Bowl appearance. Ryan is entering the final year of that deal, and the Falcons have prioritized signing Ryan to an extension this offseason. Owner Arthur Blank stopped short of saying the organization is ready to make Ryan the league's highest-paid player, but Blank said Ryan will be kept in a "competitive range" with the quarterback market rising, as elite passers are getting almost $30 million per year. Meanwhile, Schaub's two-year, $8 million seemed like a sound investment for an established veteran who could help Ryan with some of the nuances of the offense. We'll see whether the Falcons feel the same way considering Schaub's cap number in 2018.
Big picture: Finding a franchise quarterback can sometimes be a rather difficult task, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff certainly is happy with the results that came from drafting Ryan. Sure, Ryan has drawn criticism over the years for not winning the big game and for falling short in the playoffs. But you can't argue with Ryan's claim for the ultimate individual honor: his league MVP in 2016. Ryan, who turns 33 in May, sounds like a guy eager to play into his 40s, like Tom Brady. And he's motivated to win a Super Bowl, not just get there.
The game plan: The biggest issue to address this offseason is getting Ryan's extension done. Ryan's high 2018 cap figure could be reduced significantly with an extension, which could pave the way for filling some of the holes the Falcons need to plug at other positions. But questions linger about the timing of a potential Ryan extension, and will he give a hometown discount? Whatever the case, Ryan is going to be compensated. As for the backup spot, it's worth monitoring to see whether the Falcons believe they can find cheaper help. Garrett Grayson is the developmental quarterback on the practice squad, but it's doubtful he's ready to step into the No. 2 role.