A surprising entrant emerged in the Deshaun Watson trade talks today- the cap starved Atlanta Falcons. While it seems a longshot since there have been so many questions about how they could pull a trade off I wanted to put together a post talking about some of the issues that have caused confusion among people.
I would imagine for any trade to occur Matt Ryan would need to be on the move either to Houston or as part of a package to another team like the Colts. Ryan agreed to the terms of a restructured contract last Friday night that reportedly would see the Falcons convert $15 million in compensation to a signing bonus. The move would save the Falcons $12 million in cap space.
At the time the decision seemed a little premature. The Falcons no longer needed cap room to be compliant for the year and unless they were planning a major free agent splash there was no real need to rush into creating cap space. The only issue really is that Ryan had a roster bonus due on the 3rd day of the league year and you would lose to the right to convert that to a prorated bonus after that date. Still they had plenty of other salary they could convert if needed.
As things stand right now the Falcons have not actually pulled the trigger on the restructured contract. Ryan still counts for $48.67 million on the 2022 salary cap and his dead money is $40.525 million if traded or cut. It is not the $55 million listed on OTC. For the time being I am going to leave the number as is simply because I expect them to pull the trigger on the restructure in the next two days and it gives a better perspective on the Falcons cap situation. I dont see them cutting Ryan given his history with the franchise but the number to be used in a trade is $40.525 million.
The cost to bring in Deshaun Watson would be $35 million on the cap. With Ryan at his full cap charge the Falcons would have about $4 million in cap space. That number does not include a recent extension for Jake Matthews which I would guess opened up $6-8 million in cap room for Atlanta. So lets call it $11 million. By trading Ryan the team would create $8 million in cap space which would bring us to about $19 million.
From there it gets harder. The Falcons don’t have much to work with on the roster outside of one big move- releasing Grady Jarrett. Releasing Jarrett would open up $16.55 million in cap room. That would probably be enough to bring in Watson. If it wasn’t then also releasing Tyeler Davison ($3M in net cap savings) would do it.
If the Falcons were intent on keeping Jarrett they could do that as well, but I think they would have to cut first and then re-sign him. Teams do this all the time with lower salaried veterans at cut down day to protect the IR spots on the roster. What you would do is cut Jarrett to open the cap room, trade for Watson, and then restructure Watsons contract to bring his cap down from $35 million to between $9.5 and $10 million. That would give you the cap space needed to sign your rookies and bring back Jarrett. So I would guess this is the path that the team would have to take if they wanted to trade for Watson.
As for Ryan he would cost a team $23.75 million on the cap. The Colts could clearly take that on. Houston could as well following the trade as the net cost on the cap between Watson’s dead money and Ryan’s salary would be a push, but I am not so certain the Texans would really want Ryan since they should be rebuilding. The only other QB needy teams currently with the cap space are the Panthers, and neither they nor Atlanta would do that deal, and the Seahawks who I guess could possibly be interested for a late pick. Since Ryan has that roster bonus due on the third day of the league year the Falcons would need the trade processed before then as well so time is not on their side.
So clearly it is a longshot, but crazy things happen in the NFL all the time, so maybe they can find a way to pull it off.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.