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On Tuesday at Purple Insider I summarized how new coaching staffs have handled their first offseasons and provided a particular emphasis on the Falcons as an example of what not to do. I wanted to dig into that further.

Following three straight losing seasons, Atlanta hired a new coach in Arthur Smith but didn’t hit the reset button. They pushed Matt Ryan’s cap hit down the road, signed a bevy of one-year free agents to patch together their defense and pushed forward without drafting a quarterback. They traded a star in Julio Jones, but only got a future second and future fourth in return — far from a franchise-altering deal.

“They hired the wrong guys if they thought we were going to lower expectations, take our time, and rebuild,” Arthur Smith went on record saying last spring.

Atlanta went 7-10 but probably should’ve been worse. Their offense ranked 26th and defense ranked 29th, and Pro Football Reference lists their expected win-loss record at 4.9-12.1.

Other than Cordarrelle Patterson’s resurgence as a running back, there wasn’t much to write home about for Atlanta.

The Falcons were a less competitive version of the Vikings. Their new head coach was trying to make a strong first impression by dodging the “rebuild” stigma, while Mike Zimmer and Co. were trying to save their jobs. Both teams took a similar approach by hiring stopgaps around their expensive quarterback, fell out of the hunt in the NFC and now face a salary cap deficit because of those aforementioned quarterbacks.

Ryan is due to count over $48 million against the salary cap, the largest cap hit in NFL history if it stands, and over $3 million more than Cousins’ number.

Atlanta is the team that few pundits are talking about, yet they are arguably in need of a rebuild more desperately than the Vikings. They are going on four straight losing seasons versus the Vikings’ two. Their quarterback is three years Cousins’ senior. Aside from Ryan, the Falcons face three absurd cap numbers over $20 million in Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews and Deion Jones, while the Vikings only have Danielle Hunter sitting at that level.

So why isn’t Atlanta getting more buzz as a player in the QB market?

For one, Ryan is a tougher asset to move than someone like Cousins. His contract inevitably would have to be restructured in a new home, which means adding extra years on to a quarterback who has two years left on his deal, is turning 37 and played some of his worst football in 2021. Ryan threw 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and posted a career-low 46.1 QBR. His last three seasons have all been below 60 QBR, which represent his three lowest outputs in a 14-year career.

Since 2015, when Ryan turned 30, his record is 54-58 — albeit with a Super Bowl appearance mixed in that certainly bought him some equity. Cousins in that same span is 57-52-2 as a full-time starter but without the deep playoff run.

The two of them are more or less .500 quarterbacks, only Cousins has shown no signs of regular season decline. It’s clear who he is — flaws and all — but weighing in Cousins’ durability in an era where quarterbacks can play to age 40, he’s got more years ahead of him than Ryan.

A potential suitor may be spooked at a multi-year commitment to Ryan; less so for Cousins. That’s not to say there aren’t hazards with both, but Cousins’ floors have been consistently higher. You can argue that Ryan’s ceilings have been higher as well when his rosters were better.

It’s the type of argument talk radio was made for.

Ryan is also a legacy quarterback. Heck, he’s started all but three games for the Falcons since 2008, 222 regular season games in all. There’s longevity with Ryan, and it was always going to take more than a bad season or two to run him out of town, but there’s been a shift in Atlanta’s messaging of late.

It’s worth noting that the Falcons have been as non-committal with Ryan as the Vikings have been with Cousins — maybe even more so. At the combine, GM Terry Fontenot said this when asked about Ryan:

“I’m not going to say anything about any particular player … because if I answer that question, we can go through the entire roster and talk about who they are. But I would say we’re going to look to add to every position and try to improve this roster.”

How about Arthur Smith? The second-year head coach practically begged for the phone to ring with a trade suitor.

"We anticipate Matt being part of the team, but you don't ever back yourself into a corner," Smith said, per the Falcons' official website. "If someone gives you an offer you can't refuse — Matt knows how we feel about him. Matt has a lot of good football left in him.”

Even Falcons owner Arthur Blank admitted the Falcons need a succession plan at quarterback.

The Vikings, likewise, have praised Cousins’ abilities but also kept their options open by refusing to commit to his long-term future. After witnessing trade values for Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz, one would assume the Vikings have plenty of options available. Depending which Twitter accounts you’re following, you’ve probably seen Cousins’ name alternated with Jimmy Garoppolo’s as the best quarterback available on the market. Not as many mentions of Ryan.

Atlanta doubled down on Ryan, both at the end of the Dan Quinn era and the beginning of the Arthur Smith era. After four years of losing, they find themselves without much leverage.

Ryan’s age and cost have made him more unappealing. For all his warts, Cousins at least still has some shimmer.

If the Vikings were to extend Cousins, they’d be risking a Ryan situation in a couple of years. Atlanta should be viewed as a cautionary tale.

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