Matt Ryan’s big deal, NFL power rankings, Jason Witten retires and more


With Matt Ryan getting $100 million guaranteed from the Atlanta Falcons, the NFL is about see quarterback salaries skyrocket once again.

On Thursday afternoon, Matt Ryan signed a contract that turned the NFL on it’s ear. Ryan, who turns 33 this month, agreed to a five-year extension worth $150 million with the Atlanta Falcons. In doing so, he became the first player to earn $30 million annually, but that’s not the important part.

Ryan is getting paid $100 million guaranteed, the most in NFL history.

While Ryan is a former MVP and a top-10 quarterback, he’s not worth that amount of money in the salary cap age. Nobody is. Ryan is virtually uncuttable until 2022, and even then the Falcons would have to swallow $13.3 million in dead cap. Over the next two seasons, his cap numbers are $17.7 and $22.8 million before leaping to $31.8 and $34.3 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Should the salary cap continue to ascend at its current pace, the Falcons are looking at roughly a $200 million cap in 2020. Ryan would be accounting for 15.9 percent of the team’s available money. Going into 2018, only two teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, have more money allotted to the position by percentage.

When the news came down of Ryan’s contract, general managers cringed while agents smiled wide. After the 2019 season, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are all scheduled for free agency. Barring retirement (Brady, Big Ben, Brees) or severe regression, all four will have extensions within the next 12 months. Should they want to push for max value, Ryan’s contract will look like a bargain in short order.

While Brady, Roethlisberger and Brees will all get more than $30 million per year if they continue playing, Wilson and Rodgers will blast the $100 million guaranteed marker into space. Both are superior players to Ryan with Super Bowl rings on their fingers, along with the same leverage that every great quarterback has.

With good seasons over the next two years, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston would also be included in this conversation. Both play out their fifth-year options in 2019, and while neither has been a franchise player to this point, both the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all but certain to keep them off the market. With slightly-improved performances, both youngsters will be paid like first-ballot Hall of Famers.

With the financial implications of a franchise quarterback in mind, the amount of reaches on first-round quarterbacks will continue to rise. The Baltimore Ravens exercised foresight by trading into the last pick of the opening round for Lamar Jackson, giving them the fifth-year option and another year of relatively cheap control.

Teams are increasingly realizing that their best championship window comes with a quarterback on a rookie deal, allowing for free-agent luxuries and the like. The Seattle Seahawks went to a pair of Super Bowls with Wilson on his initial contract, while the Philadelphia Eagles did the same with Carson Wentz in February.

Last April, the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and Chicago Bears all traded up for quarterback they hope can lead them to the promised land. Not coincidentally, all three teams were extremely active in free agency, hoping to make an immediate push.

This spring, the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and Ravens all moved up for a quarterback in the first round. Don’t be shocked when 10 months from now, all four franchises are trying to make a strong move toward the top. The Cleveland Browns can be added to that list, not having needed to trade up to land Baker Mayfield.

With every big-name quarterback signing on the dotted line, the need to find a signal caller in the first round becomes increasingly of paramount importance. Ryan’s contract further drove that point home, and it’ll be driven further by Rodgers, Wilson and others before the decade is over.

For close to a century, the NFL has lorded over players financially, refusing to guarantee contracts. Finally, behind Kirk Cousins and Ryan, the league’s most important faces has begun to break that mold, changing forever the way the NFL and its executives view team-building.

Power rankings

Top 10 potential free agents in 2019

1. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
2. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Oakland Raiders
3. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
4. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
5. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
6. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Los Angeles Rams
7. Zach Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys
8. Earl Thomas, FS, Seattle Seahawks
9. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
10. DeMarcus Lawrence, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys


"“After approaching Coach Fuller with the findings of an investigation into complaints of inappropriate conduct, we accepted his resignation,” team spokesperson Steven Drummond said in a statement. “The Panthers are deeply committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally.”"

– Statement from the Carolina Panthers on the resignation of defensive backs coach Chris Fuller

The Panthers are for sale because owner Jerry Richardson put them to the market following an explosive Sports Illustrated story detailing his sexual misconduct back in December. Since then, more has come out, enough that the entire franchise is under review by the NFL, something that one of the women alleged to have been violated called a farce.

The NFL needs to clean up its act. Now.


Matt Verderame and Josh Hill provide a new Stacking The Box episode every Monday on both iTunes and FanSided’s Facebook Live page. Please subscribe, rate and like, and feel free to email Verderame at Hill anytime!

Random stat

Don Shula has the most all-time regular-season wins for an NFL head coach, racking up 347 with the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins. The leading active wins leader is Bill Belichick with 278.

Info learned this week

1. Jason Witten moves on to MNF

After a tremendous 15-year career, Jason Witten is moving on. The former Cowboys tight end will eventually see himself enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but for now will take his talents to the ESPN broadcast booth, where he will replace Jon Gruden as the color analyst for Monday Night Football.

Witten, 35, amassed 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns during a career that included a pair of First-Team All-Pro campaigns and 11 Pro Bowls. Perhaps most incredibly, Witten missed a single game throughout his time in Dallas, and it came as a rookie.

Throughout his playing days, Witten was often overlooked with Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates stealing the spotlight. Now, he’ll be center stage on primetime every week, finally getting a bit of air time.

2. Raiders catching heat for drafting Hurst

One of the big surprises during the NFL Draft was the fall of former Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Hurst, who had first-round talent, fell into the fifth round over concerns about a heart condition that was detected at the combine. While he was eventually cleared medically, teams stayed away until the Oakland Raiders took a chance in the fifth round.

However, much of the NFL is furious with Oakland for picking Hurst. In Matt Miller’s notebook on Bleacher Report, multiple quotes surfaced calling the Raiders “irresponsible” among other things. The general consensus is that Hurst could die by playing with this condition, and that was ignored by Oakland. Hopefully Hurst can play without issue, but this is a situation that clearly bears monitoring.

3. Packers feel confident in long-term deal with Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers are going to be cutting a huge check soon, and they’re fine with it. General manager Brian Gutekunst believes the team will get a deal done with Aaron Rodgers, who despite being 34 years old, has a good chance of getting a record-setting contract.

After seeing how much Kirk Cousins ($84 million guaranteed) and Matt Ryan got paid this offseason, and seeing Jimmy Garopppolo net $137.5 million after five starts with the San Francisco 49ers, Rodgers is going to want his dough. Considering his talent and the position he plays, Green Bay has no leverage. He’s going to basically write his own contract, and the Packers will put ink to paper.

4. Redskins in hot water over cheerleader allegations

The Washington Redskins are in deep trouble for damaging accusations over a cheerleaders trip in 2013 to Costa Rica. In the New York Times story, cheerleaders claim they were forced to be topless during a shoot in front of men with corporate ties to the team. The women also had their passports taken once in Costa Rica, and nine were allegedly asked to be “personal escorts” for the aforementioned men at night at clubs.

This also raises the question of whether cheerleaders are long for the league. The New Orleans Saints are currently being investigated in connection with a lawsuit by a former cheerleader, who says she was fired over gender-based discrimination.

5. Emmanuel Sanders happy to have quarterback certainty

After two years that saw Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian muck up the Denver Broncos’ quarterback situation, general manager John Elway finally settled it to a degree by signing Case Keenum to a two-year deal. Elway made plenty of friends in his locker room with that move, including veteran star receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Sanders, who somehow amassed 1,036 yards in 2016 before dropping off to 555 in an injured-plagued 2017, says Broncos players have a clear direction. With Keenum, who led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game in January, Denver has hope of getting back to the playoffs for the first time since winning Super Bowl 50.

History lesson

The 1963 San Diego Chargers were ahead of their time. The team was led by head coach Sid Gillman, quarterback Tobin Rote and receiver Lance Alworth, scoring an AFL-best 399 points (28.5 points per game) while finishing 11-3. It was an aerial assault seldom seen before in football, and it propelled the Chargers to their only championship to date, beating the Boston Patriots by a 51-10 count.

Afterwards, the Chargers challenged the NFL-champion Bears to a contest for pro football’s ultimate title, only to be rebuffed. Many, including sportswriter Jerry Magee, don’t believe it would have been much of a fight.

However, San Diego was also taking steroids, back before most of the public understood their function.

In totality, the Chargers have mostly a lost legacy, the franchise now in a different city and the league it played in swallowed by a merger almost 50 years ago. Still, they deserve remembrance for their greatness, their controversy and their revolutionary style of play.

Parting shot

With the Patriots finally looking vulnerable in the AFC, who is going to step up and finally take the mantle? The obvious choice — for this year anyway — would be the Steelers, but they have their own issues. If not Pittsburgh, could it be the Jacksonville Jaguars?

Jacksonville beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisionals at Heinz Field last year before succumbing in a tight contest in Foxborough the following weekend. This offseason, the Jaguars lost Allen Robinson, Aaron Colvin and Allen Hurns but found replacements in Donte Moncrief and undrafted free agent Quenton Meeks. With Blake Bortles at quarterback, can the Jaguars scale the mountain and this time, get over the top?

History says it won’t happen in 2018. Teams that come from nowhere to enjoy contention regress often, as evidenced by the Raiders, Cowboys and Dolphins of a year ago. With Jacksonville facing a tougher schedule and the AFC South getting better in all corners, the challenge will be stiff.

Still, despite rules that continue favoring offenses, Jacksonville has the best defense in the league, and defenses still win championships.