Atlanta entered the 2021 offseason without a coach and general manager, and after filling those vacancies, many wondered if Matt Ryan's job was next to require replacement. It wasn't Ryan's play that was the issue -- he'd just finished another 4,500-yard, 25-plus passing touchdown, 90-or-better passer rating season -- but his bloated contract and Atlanta's unenviable salary cap situation lined up his status on a potential chopping block.
By the time the first night of the 2021 draft ended, Ryan learned the sous chef wasn't coming for him. The Falcons' decision to eschew selecting a quarterback of the future in favor of taking the most talented player in the draft, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, meant Ryan would keep his job for at least one more year.
That moment of realization arrived when the general public also learned of Atlanta's decision, setting off a chain reaction in the Ryan household that seemed to shift from relief to excitement.
"When the pick went in, that was the big [moment]," Ryan told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. "To the organization's credit, they were very up-front about that from the start -- 'Hey, we're gonna pick whoever we think is the best person to help us moving forward.' And they said they had a lot of belief and all those things, but they were up-front from the start about that. So I knew when Kyle got drafted that Kyle got drafted."
The draft pick meant Ryan wasn't going to have to prepare for a move elsewhere, at least not in 2021. Atlanta wasn't planning for the future at the position, even if now -- in the first few months of a new regime, when the leash is at its longest -- might have seemed like the best time to do so.
That also meant Ryan could shift his attention to processing the talent his team had just added to his pass-catching corps.
"I was fired up!" Ryan told Breer. "I mean, I watched this guy play through college, so it was like, 'Oh, alright, let's go!' I was watching it with my wife, and I think she was probably more fired up than me."
Ryan's wife was likely just as excited that they wouldn't have to confront a move as Ryan was about his new teammate. The removal of such a stressor, at least for the time being, would be a relief to anyone.
Pitts is arguably the best player in this draft class and could be a significant weapon for the Falcons for years to come, which very well could include the final seasons of Ryan's career. Pitts joins a receiving corps that includes rising star Calvin Ridley and longtime star Julio Jones, though the latter very well could be on his way out of Atlanta. Ryan won't have a shortage of premier targets in 2021, provided they stay healthy.
To his credit, Ryan is still playing at a high level. He'll get to continue doing so without having to look over his shoulder, instead keeping his focus downfield in search of the new No. 8.