When reports emerged that the Falcons could trade quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, they made sense at first glance. After all, why wouldn’t the 1-6 Falcons consider trading veterans to start a rebuild process? In this case, there’s a big reason — their contracts.
The NFL’s salary cap rules make trading the highly paid Ryan and Jones nearly impossible for the Falcons. Any trade away of either play would require a number of follow-up moves to account for accelerated cap hits for Atlanta and large future cap hits for the acquiring team. The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. ET, and while you’d never say never on a struggling team trading away its big names, the money in this situation likely makes it a bit too hard.
Below, we’ve gone into more detail on Ryan and Jones’ contracts, along with the NFL rules that make moving them rather difficult.
Matt Ryan contract details
- Years remaining: 3 (2021-2023)
- Total cash value remaining: $74,750,000
- Total cap hit remaining: $119,187,500
- Average per year: $30 million (No. 10 among quarterbacks)
Some restructuring has left Ryan with a hefty contract remaining. Thanks to a few roster bonuses and shifted money, Ryan possesses nearly $40 million in cap hit average across the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons. While Ryan himself has actually made some of that money through various guarantees, it’s that cap hit number that will matter most to a team wanting to acquire Ryan.
A team could save $15 million on Ryan (in addition to not paid base salaries) if it released him after the 2021 season, because Ryan has roster bonuses that kick in early in the 2022 and 2023 league calendar, each for $7.5 million.
Julio Jones contract details
- Years remaining: 3 (2021-2023)
- Total cash value remaining: $38,326,000
- Total cap hit remaining: $61,576,000
- Average per year: $22 million (No. 2 among wide receivers)
Thanks to the structuring of bonuses in Jones’ contract, he too will have a larger cap hit than his cash intake for each of the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons. Only $2M of Jones’ 2022 base salary is guaranteed for injury, and releasing him before the 2023 season would leave $7.75 million in dead cap.
Why Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ contracts make them hard to trade
If either Jones or Ryan is traded, all future prorated money (from bonuses and the like) “accelerates” into a cap hit against this season’s salary cap, according to Pro Football Talk. That means for cap purposes, trading Ryan away would accelerate $44.4 million onto Atlanta’s salary cap number, and the Jones cap acceleration would amount to $23.25 million.
The Falcons currently have less than $2 million in cap space, making such massive cap accelerations likely a non-starter. Getting Jones and Ryan’s base salaries off the books would not equate to the amount of cap acceleration Atlanta would be facing, especially because Ryan’s restructured contract includes a base salary of just more than $1 million in 2020.
In addition, the NFL’s salary cap is much more likely to fall for 2021 rather than rise due to pandemic restrictions on a number of normal team cash flows. It could be as low as $175 million, per PFT. A team taking on Ryan would be devoting more than a fifth of its cap hit to a single player, while for Jones it’d be more than a tenth of its cap hit to a wideout.
Jones and Ryan might make obvious trade candidates due to Atlanta’s record, but it’s likely they’re stuck with the Falcons to try and do things better next year.