Falcons doing due diligence on quarterback options

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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The Falcoins hold the No. 8 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

INDIANAPOLIS — The Falcons kicked off the NFL scouting combine with formal interviews with several of the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft on Monday.

Owner Arthur Blank said it was not improper for the franchise to have a succession plan at quarterback with Matt Ryan becoming 37 years old in May.

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The Falcons hold the eighth overall pick in the draft, and only Carolina, with the sixth pick, is looking for a quarterback this offseason. However, this quarterback class is not considered to be very talented with a player worthy of the eighth overall pick.

General manager Terry Fontenot noted the Falcons look at succession plans for every position, then disclosed that included quarterback, too.

“We actually had formal interviews with several quarterbacks yesterday, and there’s a good group in this draft,” Fontenot said Tuesday. “There’s different flavors.”

The quarterbacks and wide receivers are scheduled to work out Thursday.

“We’re going to evaluate those players, and at the appropriate time we’ll add to that position,” Fontenot said.

Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Liberty’s Malik Willis, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder are considered the top quarterbacks in the draft.

“But I think you can get yourself in trouble if you reach and you don’t feel good about what you are doing,” said Fontenot, who is a proponent of drafting the best player available.

Ryan has two years remaining on his contract, but Fontenot nor coach Arthur Smith would declare him the starter for next season. Smith said they anticipate him being with the team but wouldn’t turn down a huge trade offer.

“I’m not going to say anything about any particular player or any ... because if I answer that question, we can go through the entire roster and talk about who they are,” Fontenot said. “But I would say we’re going to look to add to every position and try to improve this roster.”

Ryan’s salary cap numbers must be altered. His cap hit for 2022 is $48.6 million. One option is to extend his contract and spread out the salary cap hits into 2024 and 2025, when Ryan would be 39 and 40.

Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has a $23.8 million cap number and is up for a contract extension. Left tackle Jake Matthews’ cap number is $23.6 million, and linebacker Deion Jones has a $20 million cap number.

The Falcons are $7.3 million over the projected cap of $208 million with the league year set to start March 16.

“(That’s) the elephant in the room, right?” Fontenot said. “We have some big numbers associated with four players, particularly our quarterback. We have a big cap number, and all those players with the big cap numbers, it’s not their fault. They’re just good professionals that come in and do their jobs. I want to be clear with that.

“But it is a challenge. ... I wouldn’t say it’s a problem. I would say it’s a challenge.”

The Falcons must work those contracts to get under the cap and then do even more to create some room to sign their own free agents. They will try to find some “value” players as upgrades in free agency.

“It’s something we have to work around,” Fontenot said. “So, it’s important to make sure we go through the process of finding the right ways to open up some cap space. We have to add players, and we have to improve this roster, and that’s important.”

The Falcons, who finished 7-10 but were outscored by 146 points, will get creative with the current contracts and there will be some salary-cap cuts.

“When you’re at different points there are times where you will handle the salary cap and handle contracts in different ways,” Fontenot said. “Sometimes teams feel like they’re one player away and they’re going to make a big splash in free agency and spend a lot of money. We’re not at that point.

“We have to be patient. ... We have to be selective. We (must) be cost effective. So where we are with our team, we have to figure out ways, the right ways to create cap space and then make sure we’re patient and ... we find value.”

Fontenot was with the Saints and they were up against the salary cap for years because of quarterback Drew Brees’ contract. The Falcons also just added former Chicago general manager Ryan Race, who was also with the Saints.

Well, there are a lot of different ways whether you’re talking about contract extensions,” Fontenot said. “Whether if you’re talking about they’re going to be cuts, they’re going to be trades.”

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Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley pulls in a pass over Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the first half Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/AP)

Credit: AP

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley pulls in a pass over Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the first half Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/AP)

Credit: AP

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Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley pulls in a pass over Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the first half Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A trade of wide receiver Calvin Ridley could open up $11 million in salary-cap space. The team thinks he’s going to play again but may need a fresh start elsewhere after leaving the team to attend to his mental wellness on Oct. 31.

“They’re going to be contracts that we do convert (to roster bonuses),” Fontenot said. “We don’t think ... another elephant in the room is are we rebuilding. Are we trying to win now? And I would say we’re trying to have our cake and eat it, too.

“We want to be smart. We don’t want to make decisions that are going to hurt us in future years. But we also want to build the best team that we can.”

The Falcons are set to meet with the agents for their free agents in Indianapolis this week to start hammering out parameters of any deals. Running back Cordarrelle Patterson, linebacker Foye Oluokun, wide receiver Russell Gage, kicker Younghoe Koo and Pro Bowl long snapper Josh Harris are the team’s top free agents.

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