An MRI of AJ McCarron’s right knee confirmed that the Falcons quarterback suffered a season-ending ACL injury Saturday against the Dolphins, the team announced Sunday.
McCarron will miss the 2021 season and the Falcons now find themselves in the free-agent quarterback market.
“I really feel for AJ McCarron,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said after the game. “Anytime that something like that happens … it’s tough when you know what these guys put into it.”
Immediately following the game, the Falcons were not ready to rule out McCarron’s return.
“We’ll obviously get the MRI to confirm,” Smith said. “He’s heart broken. He had bounced back. He was out there fighting for his team, trying to get the extra yards. I understand that injuries are a part of the game, but there is still a human element. So, I feel for AJ.”
With the Falcons down 14-3, the offense was on the move. McCarron broke loose for a 7-yard gain and was tackled hard by Miami linebacker Sam Eguavoen. McCarron stayed in for another play before walking to the sideline. The trainers attended to him and assessed him in the blue tent before announcing that he had suffered a knee injury and would not return. It was unclear if he was hurt on the tackle or if it was a non-contact injury after handing off the ball.
McCarron was vying to win the Falcons’ backup quarterback job that became vacant with the retirement of Matt Schaub.
McCarron directed the Falcons to a field goal on their first possession of Saturday’s game. The went three-and-out on the second possession and he was injured on the third possession.
McCarron was trying to bounce back from a poor performance against Tennessee, when he completed 5 of 12 passes for 36 yards and one interception in the 23-3 loss. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 36 yards before the injury.
Feleipe Franks took over at quarterback for the Falcons. He completed 4 of 9 passes for 46 yards and was sacked four times, including once for a safety. He also was intercepted and finished with a passer rating of 20.8.
The top free agent quarterbacks on the market are Alex Smith (retired), Robert Griffin III, Blake Bortles, Josh McCown, Ryan Findley, Josh Rosen, Jake Rudock, Case Cookus, Jamie Newman (opted out at Georgia in 2020) and K.J. Costello.
“You’re always going to look to improve the team,” Smith said. “So, we have to assess and see what the injury is. Until you get a MRI, we’ve seen things happen before. It was quick. But anytime we are always looking to improve the roster. If it is long-term, we’ll continue to look there.”
Franks, who played at Florida and Arkansas, has done a nice job of extending plays in two NFL games, but has struggled passing the football.
The Falcons still consider Franks a developmental player and may still not be ready to get the team through a regular-season NFL game at this early stage of his development.
“He came in there and that is the job,” Smith said. “He was the backup quarterback tonight. He has to be ready. He stepped in there and he did drive us down.
“He’s had a lot of growth and he’s going to continue to grow. The reason that I respect Feleipe is because he’s a tough-minded guy. You can push Feleipe. We want to continue to push our operation. He’s been thrown into situations that you could never replicate in practice. These are very valuable reps for him.”
Franks knew he had a mixed performance.
“I thought that offensively, collectively, I thought there was good plays,” Franks said. “Obviously, I put us in a bad situation when I threw an interception, but there were bad plays and really just learn from those, learn from the good and the bad.”
Rosen, a former first-round pick by Arizona, was most recently cut by the 49ers, who run a similar offense. He was with the Cardinals in 2018 after being selected 10th overall. The Cardinals selected Kyler Murray the following year and traded Rosen to Miami.
Rosen played with the Dolphins in 2019. They elected to move on from Rosen and selected former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 draft. Rosen has played in 20 NFL games with 16 starts. He has a 3-13 record as a starter, completed 54.8% of his passes and has12 to 19 touchdowns to interceptions ratio.
Rosen spent time with the Buccaneers’ practice squad last season before the 49ers signed him last December.
Rosen is one of five quarterbacks selected in the first round in the 2018 draft. The other four, Baker Mayfield (Browns), Sam Darnold (Panthers), Josh Allen (Bills) and Lamar Jackson (Ravens), are expected to open the season as starters.
Bortles has played in 78 games and made 73 starts. He has a 24-49 record as a starter.
The Falcons could attempt to coax Schaub, who turned 40 in June, out of retirement. He attended a recent practice.
Also, if Tennessee keeps Matt Barkley in favor of Logan Woodside, he could become a candidate to reunite with Smith. Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian, if he is cut, also could be reunited with Smith. Siemian spent time with the Titans in 2020 when Smith was the offensive coordinator.
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