Ryan: No Sophomore Slump

Matt Ryan is done basking in the afterglow of his very fine rookie season. Things got off to a great start with the first part of his career going for a touchdown and it just seem to keep getting better as he led the Falcons to 11-5 record and a few ticks away from the NFC South crown.

Now, what does he do for an encore? Just don't mention the notion of a sophomore slump. The Falcons' brain trust wasn't to push him toward elite status in the league. To achieve that goal, they want Ryan to improve on his decision-making and his accuracy, despite completing 61.1 percent of his passes last year.
During the offseason workouts, Ryan showed and even firmer command of things.

"It's actually scary how much he's improved and it's only his second year," fullback Ovie Mughelli said. "People thought he couldn't get much better than last year."

Ryan, who's working under the tutelage of Bill Musgrave, plans to continue his workmanlike approach to the game. "We did a lot of things really well last year, but losing in the playoffs serves as great motivation," Ryan said.

Musgrave was also the tutor for Peyton Manning during his rookie season.

CAMP CALENDAR: Players report July 31 and the first practice is Aug. 1. The team has a mock game at the Georgia Dome on Aug. 9.


--When the Falcons take the field to start training camp on Aug. 1, defensive end John Abraham will be there. Rich Rosa, Abraham's agent, disputed a report that Abraham was unhappy with his contract and was considering a holdout. A report surfaced on NFL Network last week that there were "rumblings" of an Abraham holdout. The Falcons, who don't comment about player contracts, said that they had not been approached by Abraham's agent about re-doing his six-year, $45 million contact.

Abraham was traded to the Falcons in 2006. He's set to make $5 million in 2009, $6.5 million in 2010 and $8 million in 2011. The pay scale for defensive linemen has ticked upward since he signed his deal. Minnesota's Jared Allen signed a six-year, $73.26 million deal in 2008 and Washington's Albert Haynesworth signed a seven-year deal worth $100 million, with more than $41 million in guaranteed in 2009.

Abraham is the most accomplished player on a defense that has to replace five starters. He set the franchise record with 16.5 sacks and was named second-team All-Pro last season. "Absolutely, the bottom line is that Arthur Blank brought John Abraham in to do what he's been doing," Rosa said. "He's been leading that defense. To go out and have 16.5 sacks and not make the Pro Bowl was absurd. But here, the guy has been a staple. He's ready to go. He's so happy to be on that team."

--Owner Arthur Blank has agreed to sell partnership shares in the team to four investors, the team announced. Ronald E. Cankers, Douglas J. Hertz, Ed Mendel and Derek V. Smith join John P. Imlay, Jr., and John A. Williams as minority owners of the team. The transaction is subject to final approval by the NFL. Neither the amount paid for each share nor the percentage of the stake in the team the men will own was disclosed by the franchise or the attorney who represented the investor group.

Maury Brown, a sports business analyst and president of the Business of Sports Network in Portland, Ore., was not surprised by the move. "Blank and most of the other owners are really looking to move part of or a percentage of their holdings," Brown said. "It's a difficult time right now. Look at Tom Hicks in Texas, who lost a half a billion. Look at the Chicago Cubs (considering bankruptcy)."

Blank wanted to add more minority owners in order to give him more flexibility in directing capital to the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. However, he plans to stay in control of the franchise. "I have no intention of selling the club or even a controlling interest in the club," Blank said. "This decision is driven primarily by my charitable and estate-planning goals and by the value that can be added to the franchise by partnering with minority owners of this caliber."

Blank retains more than 90 percent of ownership in the team. Blank purchased the Falcons in 2002 for $545 million, after first expressing interest in buying the team in 1986. The late Rankin Smith Sr. paid $8.5 million for the team he bought as an expansion franchise in 1965.

Last September, Forbes magazine valued the Falcons at $872 million -- 29th out of NFL 32 teams -- in its annual report on "the Business of Football."

--The Falcons have to get the remaining three rookie draft picks -- first-rounder Peria Jerry, second-rounder William Moore and fourth-rounder Lawrence Sidbury -- signed before camp opens. After completing the rookie contracts, there's that little matter of Roddy White's contract extension. The Falcons have been in discussions with their Pro Bowl wide receiver.

The league is set for an uncapped year in 2010 because the owners elected to "opt out" of the collective bargaining agreement. A new deal needs to be in place by February 2010 or teams will have that "uncapped" year in 2010. If White and the Falcons don't reach a deal, under the old rules, he was set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. If the "uncapped" year scenario plays out, White would become a restricted free agent for one year and could hit the open market after the 2010 season.

Recently, Green Bay did a three-year, $27 million extension with Greg Jennings. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald signed a four-year, $40 million deal in 2008.
Looks like White, who's set to make $2.28 million this season, is headed for deal worth around $10 million annually.

--DE Jonathan Babineaux helped to distribute book bags filled with school supplies to 3,000 underserved students last Saturday at Hosea Feed The Hungry & Homeless's (HFTH) annual Back to School Jamboree at Turner Field. Celebrating 40 years of community service, Hosea Feed the Hungry & Homeless (HFTH) implemented the "School Readiness" Back to School Jamboree initiative to help the approximately 12% of the Atlanta Public School students who are homeless.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "John's like a machine. Like that fine-tuned Bentley. You need to put it in the garage for a little bit, then you get it revved up and ready to go later on." -- Agent Rich Rosa on his client John Abraham not fully participating in offseason training activities.


The Tony Gonzalez era is about to start in Atlanta. The future Hall of Fame tight end has set the standard for the modern-day standard for the position with his play over the last 12 years in Kansas City. He's kept his body in shape and doesn't appear to be headed for a drop off.

He will provide Matt Ryan, the team's developing young quarterback, with proven target on third downs and in the red zone. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, a former tight end who highly values the position, made it clear that Gonzalez will also be called on to lay down a block or two.

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