Just before the start of training camp, the Falcons locked up quarterback Matt Ryan for the foreseeable future. The precise details of his deal aren't yet known, but Ryan—he of the 1-4 career playoff record—will be the second-highest paid player in NFL history.
By now we know that long-term NFL contracts are exercises in creative accounting, and often outright fiction. The base salaries are backloaded to spare the team the cap hit, and those later seasons are inevitably torn up and renegotiated when the time comes.
(For the perfect example of how the numbers are manipulated, look at the breakdown of Aaron Rodgers's deal. His base salary over the first three years will total $6.4M. His base salary over the two years after that will total $24 million. And over the final two years, $39.8 million. The Packers will never let him play those last two years under the current terms.)
So what matters is guaranteed money, and Ryan is making out like a bandit. His five-year, $103.75 million deal—which will kick in for 2014—contains $59 million in guaranteed money. Like Rodgers's, we know it's massively backloaded—it'll pay $63 million total over the first three seasons, meaning a roughly $2 million-a-year base salary, with a massive jump in base salary for the final two years. You can mentally discard those two. This is, essentially, a three-year, $63-million extension, and that makes him the the second-highest paid player in the league, just ahead of Joe Flacco, and behind only Aaron Rodgers.
Ryan's deal is similar in payouts and bonus structure to the contracts signed by Rodgers, Flacco, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady—all of whom earned Super Bowl rings before signing their deals. Owner Arthur Blank considers Ryan's extension an investment.
“Matt is a franchise quarterback,” Blank said. “We’re not going to rest really well until we have rings. That’s what this is about.”
But it's a quarterback's league these days, and if it takes $55 million guaranteed to lock up Tony Romo, then it's hard to fault the Falcons for ensuring they won't have to worry about their signal-caller for a long while.