There is a great sense of relief in Atlanta that new franchise quarterback Matt Ryan is signed, sealed and delivered. I believe Ryan is going to be a fine player in the NFL and that the Falcons had little choice but to draft him at the No. 3 spot. He has the ability, the maturity and the personality to handle the rough road to becoming a top-flight quarterback in the league, but his contract is a different story.
Let's take a look at the deal as it relates to the NFL economics of 2008.
Two years ago, Vince Young was the No. 3 pick in the draft. Both Ryan and Young signed six-year contracts, so a comparison of the deals is realistic.
In 2006, the salary cap was $102 million per team. In 2008, the salary cap is $116.729 million per team. In two years, the salary cap has gone up close to 15 percent. In that same 24-month period, the rookie pool has only gone up 5 percent. Ryan's contract is close to a 25 percent increase over Young's contract, which makes no sense at all.
Keep in mind, Young signed his contract on July 30 and was in camp on time. The threat of a Ryan holdout -- if he was offered a six-year deal 15 percent higher than Young's deal -- was highly unlikely. General managers around the league are concerned about rich deals like this and are worried about how it will affect the entire first round.
It is a story of persistence and patience, of fulfillment and frustration, of good breaks and bad.
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The irony of the Ryan contract is the fact his agent, Tom Condon, also represents the top overall pick of the draft, offensive tackle Jake Long. When Long and the Dolphins agreed to a five-year deal days before the draft, it sent a small shockwave through the league because traditionally the top 10 picks agree to six-year deals. I'm not a big fan of five-year deals at the top of the draft, but in retrospect, it might have made sense after seeing Ryan's six-year deal.
If the Falcons had just looked at Long's five-year deal -- worth $60 million with $30 million guaranteed -- and said they would work off the top deal, it could have been easy to structure a deal for Ryan. Slotting Ryan off the Long deal should have been five years for $58 million with $28 million guaranteed. That would have saved the second slot for defensive end Chris Long and the Rams, and Ryan still wouldn't have been late reporting to camp.
Right now, the sixth year of the Ryan deal appears to have cost the Falcons $14 million, of which $6.5 million is guaranteed. How does the Ryan deal affect the player above and below him in the draft?
Chris Long is now boxed in by two contracts: Jake Long above him and Ryan below him. I'm sure when the Rams saw the five-year deal Jake Long signed a few days before the draft they weren't happy. But when the Ryan six-year deal got finalized, it probably made the five-year deal look like a better way to go.
What should Chris Long's agent, Marv Demoff, be looking for at this point? His perspective might be: If the third player in the draft is able to beat the deal of the top player, then why can't the second player in the draft do the same thing? I wouldn't blame Demoff for making that conclusion.
Let's say cooler heads prevail, and the Rams look at presenting a five-year deal off Jake Long's deal and arrive at $59 million with $29 million guaranteed. That would be a "slotted" deal off the top pick. On the other hand, the Rams now have to expect that Chris Long's people want a slotted deal off Ryan's contract -- six years for $73 million with $35 million guaranteed.
Can you see what the Ryan deal has done to the top of the draft?
Most people I talk with believe Chris Long will do a deal close to the five-year deal I suggested. If and when that deal is finalized, we are talking about the top three players in the draft with zero playing experience in the NFL having a combined compensation package of $191 million with $93.5 guaranteed.
I hope veteran players around the league think long and hard about that kind of money going to unproven talent. It is scary to think that in a collision sport such as football that these three rookies are getting close to 48 percent of their contracts guaranteed.
The trickle-down effect of the three top deals falls right to McFadden, the Raiders' top pick at No. 4 overall. Does he hold out for a five-year deal worth $56 million with $26 guaranteed, or a six-year package for $68 million with $30 million guaranteed? The problems continue right down the line.
In 2006, the 32 first-round players averaged just over $10 million each in guaranteed money. The cap went up 15 percent since then and logically that should mean the guaranteed money for the 2008 first-round picks should be $11.5 million, but something tells me it is going to be a lot closer to $15 million, which isn't a good thing for veteran players or the league.
This year will be no different, except the Ryan deal may mean even more money will fall in the laps of players who may struggle to excel.