ATLANTA — Matt Ryan’s offseasons have mostly resembled an ocean of calmness in past years.
For the Falcons quarterback, who offers an air of unflappability, little appears to distract him from his stated goal of winning football games.
This offseason, a couple of factors — some under his control, some not — have derailed him a bit. Ryan being Ryan, they are mostly small ripples but at least a couple could threaten to gain momentum and transform themselves into thornier issues.
The first was the shoulder injury that he suffered in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. On Tuesday, as Ryan met with the media to kick off the start of the team’s offseason team activities, Ryan explained how it took him about seven or eight weeks to rehab the injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder, which did not require surgery. Last year, much ado was made of how Ryan spent the offseason strengthening himself and his arm. This year, from the sounds of it, rehabbing his shoulder prevented him following a similar regimen.
“In this case, this one required a lot of rehab,” Ryan said of the injury. “Usually, I take some time immediately following the season to get out of here and to take some time away from here. With the situation I was in at the end of the season, I was here for six or seven weeks, something like that before I even took a week to kind of get away from here. That’s just part of how it goes.
“It’s one of those things where, it changed a little bit, but after I got through those seven or eight weeks I was able to start training and start to get back into shape, and do the things I wanted to do.”
The next issue also could potentially affect Ryan’s health: That of significant changeover in the offensive line that protects him. Long-time veteran center Todd McClure was forced into retirement and former Pro-Bowl right tackle Tyson Clabo was cut, leaving that unit in somewhat of a state of flux and uncertainty.
“It’s inevitable,” Ryan said. “When you play in this league there are going to be changes around you. That’s just part of the business. I don’t like to see anybody go. I loved playing with Todd. He taught me so much, helped me out so much. I loved playing with Tyson Clabo. I thought Tyson was exactly what you want from an offensive lineman, tough-nosed, smart player, physical, relentless, and a great teammate. It’s tough. You don’t want to see those guys go, but that’s the nature of the sport and the business that we’re in.”
Ryan then praised the players who will compete for those spots: second-year tackle Lamar Holmes, Mike Johnson and Garrett Reynolds. Peter Konz, who played right guard as a rookie last year, most likely will move to center but if the Falcons want to keep him in his current spot at right guard, Joe Hawley or a free agent could become the starting center. Ryan expressed, “complete confidence in those guys that they are going to be able to step up for us.” He had better. His ability to stay healthy will rely on their ability to keep him upright.
Lastly, there is his contract status, which has the potential to redefine his relationship with the organization and with his teammates. He is in the final year of his deal and general manager Thomas Dimitroff has said the two parties will most likely address the issue after the NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday, is complete.
To this point in his five-year career, Ryan has molded his public persona around being selfless, the ultimate teammate.
If negotiations become divisive, would he ever refuse to participate in voluntary workouts? The idea almost seems inconceivable. Would he force the team to offer him a deal similar to that of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco? That contract ate up so much salary cap room that it prevented the Super Bowl champion Ravens from being able to re-sign important players, creating something of a me-first image for Flacco.
“In all honesty, it’s not something that I’ve worried about or thought about or let my mind go away from the things that are important,” Ryan said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve been focused on taking care of business on the field. I think in these situations, you let the smart people handle that stuff and you stick to what you know. What I know is going out there and trying to be the best football player I can be. All the other stuff will take care of itself. I’m not too worried about it. I’ve said it to everybody, I want to be here. It’s home. It’s where I want to be.”
As usual, Ryan said all of the right things. For the Falcons to have the kind of season they want to have — and that means getting to the Super Bowl — all of those issues must remain placid, which has mostly been the natural state of affairs around the team’s headquarters in Flowery Branch since Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith took over. If not, Ryan and the Falcons could make a splash for the wrong reasons.