A pivotal offseason awaits the Atlanta Falcons, with the futures of longtime franchise quarterback Matt Ryan and standout wide receiver Calvin Ridley among the club's most prevailing questions.
Owner Arthur Blank made it clear Wednesday he would welcome both back, but did little to diminish the uncertainty regarding each of their starkly different situations.
Ridley stepped away from football following Week 7 of the 2021 seasons to focus on his mental well-being and never returned to the team.
What lies ahead for Ridley with the Falcons -- and in the NFL, for that matter -- remains a mystery. Blank would love to have the talented wideout back, but realizes that might not be what Ridley wants or what's best for him.
"We love the young man," Blank said, via the team website. "He has had a great history in Atlanta. We'd love him to stay in Atlanta. Whether or not he wants to do that -- he may decide that he wants a fresh start someplace else. We don't know that. I don't know that. I don't have information to indicate that, but we'll see how that plays out.
"We've been totally supportive in every way that we can be, both emotionally and financially in working with him as well as his agent. We'll see, but I'm mostly concerned about him as a human being."
The 27-year-old Ridley is under contract with the Falcons for one more season and was in prime position to take up the No. 1 receiver spot vacated by Julio Jones' departure. Coming off a career season in 2020, Ridley had high hopes coming into 2021, but played in only five games.
On Wednesday, Blank underscored what general manager Terry Fontenot relayed in January, that nothing had changed and there was no update on Ridley's situation. The Falcons supported Ridley in 2021, and by Blank's account will support him going forward, whether that's with them or another team.
As for Ryan, who's been throwing to Ridley for four seasons, he's heading into his 14th NFL season and has two years remaining on his contract, but with the team likely amid a rebuild, there's sure to be commotion -- as there was last year -- about the Falcons moving on from the veteran and starting anew with a fresh-faced QB, possibly via the draft.
Blank would prefer to transition from the four-time Pro Bowler to the next franchise QB, likely allowing the latter to come along before Ryan moves on.
"Great franchises have a successful transition from one quarterback to the next," Blank said. "We want to make sure we're focused on doing the same thing. Coach understands that and so does our general manager."
Regardless of what happens in the draft or elsewhere, Blank endorsed season No. 14 for Ryan with the franchise.
"(Ryan) loves the game. He loves the Falcons. He loves the city and he wants to stay here," Blank said. "That's a decision the coach and general manager will make. But we have no reason to think he won't continue to be playing quarterback for us."
In his first year under head coach Arthur Smith, Ryan threw for 3,968 yards (his least since 2010) and 20 touchdowns (his fewest since 2017) as Atlanta went 7-10. Going by the statistics likely doesn't tell an accurate tale, though, as it could be argued the 36-year-old did what he could with a limited cast, helping rookie Kyle Pitts and running back/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to solid seasons, but struggling overall behind a problematic offensive line and with few options out wide.
Blank knows Ryan will hang it up one day, but that day isn't tomorrow and he's on board with his gunslinger riding into the sunset on his terms, it would seem.
"At some point, there will be a sunset for him, but exactly when that is I really can't tell you because I really don't know," he said.