ATLANTA - For the second time in 8 years, the Atlanta Falcons opened the vault and dropped a ton of cash on a franchise quarterback.

Penn Charter's Matt Ryan, the No. 3 pick in last month's draft out of Boston College, signed a $72 million, 6-year contract yesterday. The announcement of the new deal came with smiles, confident talk of the future and no mention of Michael Vick, the first pick in 2001 who signed a $130 million extension, the richest in the league at the time, in December 2005.

Owner Arthur Blank and the Falcons were especially eager to sign Ryan, avoid a holdout and help the franchise move away from the Vick era with new general manager Thomas Dimitroff, new coach Mike Smith and now a new quarterback.

"The circumstances are always different when it comes to a player, and in Matt's case the research that Thomas did and Coach Smith did, they were extremely comfortable in Matt and what Matt stood for and what he's going to be for the long term," said team president Rich McKay, the Falcons' lead negotiator.

"I don't think there was any hesitancy because of the experience we just had."

Vick last year began a 23-month prison sentence after he confessed to bankrolling a dogfighting ring.

The Falcons' haste in finalizing the deal with Ryan received a boost when word leaked the NFL owners, who met yesterday in Atlanta, were about to opt out of a labor deal with the players' union in 2011. The deal could not have gone through 2013 if it was not finalized before the owners' unanimous vote.

Ryan, who is guaranteed $34.75 million, said his goal is to win the starting job as a rookie.

"I think that's certainly the goal, to prepare to play, to do everything you can to be on the field and play," Ryan said. "That's what I'm going to do. I think I did well picking things up in minicamp. I know there's still a lot to learn. I think I've done pretty well so far." *