Like every Atlanta Falcons player on the roster before this offseason, left tackle Jake Matthews played every season of his pro career with Matt Ryan under center. Following the trade of the former AP NFL Most Valuable Player quarterback to Indianapolis, it's a new world in Atlanta.
"It's definitely surreal," Matthews said Tuesday, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Honestly, my entire career here he's been the guy. As we all know, he's moved on now. I have nothing but respect for him. He was a hell of a leader."
Matthews spent eight years protecting Ryan's blind side, starting 128 games. The Falcons inked Matthews to a contract extension in March. At the time, it appeared he would continue to block for Ryan for at least one more season. Then came the dalliance with Deshaun Watson and eventually the trade of Ryan to Indy.
The Falcons are now starting over with Marcus Mariota under center and perhaps a rookie selected in next week's 2022 NFL Draft.
Despite the perception on the outside, Matthews said Falcons players don't view 2022 as a rebuild.
"It's exciting what we got going on here," Matthews said, per the AJC. "I'm really optimistic about what's going on and the thing we're building. We have high expectations for ourselves, there's no doubt, this year. We don't look at it as a rebuilding year or anything like that."
With Ryan gone, Matthews is now the longest-tenured Falcon on the roster.