The $100 million question for Matt Ryan
By Vaughn McClure
Matt Ryan says he doesn't feel any added pressure because of his lucrative contract.
Matt Ryan is not one to be consumed by outside opinion.
True to his character, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback brushed off any notion that he feels added pressure since becoming a $100 million quarterback. Ryan signed a five-year extension last July worth a maximum value of $103.50 million, a contract that included a then-record $58 million guaranteed. His salary-cap numbers for the next five seasons: $17,500,000; $19,500,000; $23,750,000; $23,750,000; and $21,650,000.
Critics wonder if Ryan was worth the investment based on his 1-4 postseason record. Then came last year’s 4-12 implosion, a drop-off which, in all fairness, was far beyond Ryan’s control.
Such skepticism about Ryan is often expressed on local talk radio or in the Twitter universe.
"I don’t worry about it too much," Ryan told ESPN.com. "I think it’s one of those things ... you understand playing this position, the stuff that comes with it. And that’s one of those things that comes with it.
"I’m a big believer in if you’re worrying about that stuff, you’re not worrying about the right stuff. I have to be concerned with what I’m doing on the field, what I’m doing in the weight room, and how I’m preparing myself in the meeting rooms. And I feel like if you do that stuff and you’re concentrating on improving in those areas, then all the other stuff ends up taking care of itself. And that’s kind of the way I’ve approached it."
Falcons coach Mike Smith bristled when asked about the increased scrutiny his quarterback faces based on the team’s hefty investment.
"Well, I don’t see added pressure," Smith said. "We’re all compensated. We have a job. Really, it’s nobody’s business, in my opinion, what a person makes. We don’t know what you make. We don’t know what other people make. And it really should be nobody’s business. But unfortunately, that’s not the way it is in the NFL.
"When you’re a starting quarterback in the NFL, it doesn’t really matter what your compensation is. You’re supposed to do the same thing regardless of what team you’re on: win. And the market is the market. I don’t really ever look at it and think about what the guy is being paid. We should focus on what we can control, and that’s doing the best we can to win."
Ryan realizes winning a Super Bowl could solidify his place among the league’s elite quarterbacks. The Falcons believe Ryan can guide them back to playoff contention, provided he remains upright. This is why they invested in the offensive line, bringing in free-agent right guard Jon Asamoah and drafting right tackle Jake Matthews.
Throw in the return of top receiver Julio Jones and an improved running game, and Ryan should have enough around him to get the Falcons back in the playoff conversation -- if the defense holds up.
However the season unfolds, the $100 million quarterback won’t put added pressure on himself.
"I dealt with that with my rookie contract, too," said Ryan, who initially signed a six-year, $72 million rookie deal that included $34.75 million guaranteed. "Coming in, it was the same kind of whatever you want to call it -- pressure. And I’ve been of the belief that if I just try and do my job, do my business the right way, work as hard as I possibly can, all that other stuff takes care of itself."
Smith appreciates Ryan’s approach.
"Matt doesn’t think about that stuff," Smith noted. "Like I’ve said, there are two people that are held responsible for wins and losses, and that’s the quarterback and the head coach.
"It doesn’t really matter what your salary is. That’s the way it is. And you’re held responsible for the outcomes. Unfortunately, you get credit when you win and you get [blamed] when you lose. But it’s all part of being a starting quarterback and head coach in the NFL."