Matt Ryan, the greatest player in history of the Falcons, came to grips with the fact that his work in Atlanta and at the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium was done.
Ryan plans to keep his recently built new home and continue his social action in the city, but Monday, after 14 seasons with the Falcons, Ryan was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick in the coming NFL draft.
“It’s always disappointing at first,” Ryan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview Tuesday. “That’s a very human reaction. But as you go through it, you understand that those things can happen. When they do, it’s about how you respond and how you react.”
Ryan was the third overall selection in the 2008 NFL draft and helped turn around the Falcons franchise, which was coming off a turbulent 2007 season that saw then-quarterback Michael Vick go to federal prison on charges related to dogfighting and coach Bobby Petrino quit with three games left in the season.
Ryan came in and won games immediately and became a pillar of the community through his charity work.
“It was hard because I appreciate all of the fans and how kind they’ve been to me during that time,” Ryan said. “It’s hard to see people go. It’s hard to move on. Sometimes it’s best for both places.”
Former Falcons assistant head coach/wide receivers Terry Robiskie said he saw Ryan a couple of weeks ago at former Falcon Roddy White’s wedding and that Ryan had no idea he would be traded.
“He was excited that he’d just built him a new house,” Robiskie said. “That was it. He said, ‘I put my roots down. I’m a Georgia boy.’ That was two weeks ago, and bam, the NFL comes up and is the NFL. Two weeks later he’s in a new town. He’s in new city, and it’s a different world.”
The Falcons pursued a trade for former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, but came up short. The team was considered the favorite to land Watson, a former Gainesville High School and Clemson star. Even the rival New Orleans Saints had conceded.
But the Cleveland Browns came in with a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract that the Falcons didn’t match. Watson was traded to Cleveland on Friday, and Ryan was meeting with the Colts’ coaching staff Saturday.
“So, Monday I knew that the trade was going to go through,” Ryan said. “When everything went down, I just made the request that I could take a look at what the options were available to me. I was able to have a meeting with the staff here in Indianapolis and front office on Saturday.”
Ryan took some time to reflect.
“By Monday I’d made the decision that it was time to move on,” Ryan said. “Obviously, I’m so thankful for my time there and appreciate the way things were handled and their professionalism with it.”
Ryan believes he’s with a team that can compete for the Super Bowl and that the Falcons can start rebuilding for the future.
“They are moving on and trying to head in a different direction,” Ryan said.
Ryan spoke with Falcons owner Arthur Blank, general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith before heading to Indianapolis on Tuesday morning. No one from the Falcons has publicly discussed the trade and why they received only a third-round pick for Ryan. They did issue statements.
“Yeah, and they all were great,” Ryan said. “I think all of those guys, there is a level of respect on both sides with all three of them.”
Ryan worked with Fontenot and Smith for one season.
“Obviously, my relationship goes the farthest back with Arthur Blank,” Ryan said. “I love him. I love him for the opportunity he gave. The chance he gave me in 2008, the consistent support that he provided during that time. It’s a good-bye in that I’m not playing there, but it’s a relationship that I’m always going to have.”
Ryan turned into the most prolific passer in team history, shattering all of Steve Bartkowski’s passing marks. He led the franchise to its first back-to-back winning seasons in 2008 and 2009.
Ryan guided the Falcons to the NFC Championship game after the 2012 season and to the Super Bowl after the 2016 season. He won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award for the 2016 season.
But the Falcons, because of some poor drafting from 2017-20, have fallen on hard times. They have not had a winning season since 2017, and coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were fired five games into the 2020 season.
Some of the fans had begun to bash Ryan.
“You have a ton of people who love Matt and some who don’t, I don’t know why or for whatever reason,” said former Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas, who also was drafted by the Falcons in 2008. “But we have to give him his respect because his respect is due. He’s been so great for this organization. It’s funny how quickly we forget what somebody meant to us.
“Yes, the organization is going in a different direction, but let’s not bash this man, who for 14 years gave you everything that he had on that football field.”