Arthur Blank says Falcons are ‘excited’ about Desmond Ridder’s play, leadership

 Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, January 8, 2023, in Atlanta.  
 Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, January 8, 2023, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

It sure sounds as if the Falcons feel good about Desmond Ridder as their quarterback for the 2023 season, if their owner’s comments Wednesday are any indication.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank spoke with reporters during a 10-minute teleconference from the Super Bowl. He fielded multiple quarterback-related questions and spoke glowingly of Ridder, who started the team’s final four games in 2022, after not playing in the first 13.

“The organization, I think, we’re very excited about Desmond Ridder,” Blank said. “I think from the time he came into training camp last year, he showed great capabilities as a leader amongst the rookies and then amongst the vets. He learned a lot from Marcus (Mariota) during the year.

“(Coach Arthur Smith) has full confidence in Desmond. I think, from my viewpoint, those last four games, he played better in each of the games.”

Ridder, whom the Falcons drafted in the third round in April, completed 63.5% of his passes for 708 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions – an achievement Blank noted – during his first experience starting. The Falcons went 2-2 in those games, losing by one score to the Saints and the Ravens before defeating the Cardinals and the half-trying Buccaneers.

The Falcons finally emerged from their dead-money abyss and possess the second-most spending power in the NFL. They’ll have more than $60 million to pour into a roster that needs help at nearly every spot.

Naturally, the Falcons have been speculated as a landing spot for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose negotiations with Baltimore have stalled to the point where he almost certainly will be franchise-tagged next month. If the Ravens opt to trade Jackson, it would cost a bounty for the acquiring team, both in draft capital and financial resources. The Falcons’ pursuit of Deshaun Watson last offseason suggests they’re willing to go big-name hunting and pay the price that comes with it.

But acquiring a player such as Jackson severely dents their flexibility – albeit for an elite player at the sport’s most important position – and the roster simply isn’t one quarterback away from serious contention. Even a quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo wouldn’t come cheap. The Falcons just finished paying the bill for Matt Ryan, the best quarterback in team history, and now they can build their team without financial restrictions.

Therein lies one benefit of sticking with Ridder, who will carry less than a $2 million cap hit in each of the next three years. The team can more adequately fill out its roster without one player consuming so much of the cap. Blank was asked about the rookie-quarterback advantage Wednesday.

“You have that opportunity, that’s a perfect set of circumstances, a perfect storm if you will,” he said. “When you have a quarterback you draft, and you have him under a rookie contract for five years, that’s a really big deal. There hasn’t been, in the history of the Super Bowl, one quarterback who’s represented 20% or more of the roster compensation. So, you know, we were actually at that point, reaching that point with Matt. I think, yeah, there’s a unique window there.

“And then, of course, beyond that, once you do the second contract, you want to make sure you do it in a balanced way where you can continue to build a roster. As good as a quarterback may be, and they’re certainly part of a winning formula, they can’t play by themselves. There are 21 other players that need to play as well.

“So we’re committed to the position, obviously, and we know we need a good leader. And I think we have it in Ridder.”

Things can always change, but that’s quite an endorsement from the man writing the checks. Blank spoke at length about his optimistic ahead of the 2023 season, and Ridder seems to be part of that equation. If the Falcons stay with Ridder, he’ll also have a rookie-salaried supporting cast that includes tight end Kyle Pitts – who was injured by the time Ridder played this season – receiver Drake London and running back Tyler Allgeier. The team is expected to heavily invest in its lackluster defense during free agency.