Falcons’ Fontenot on quarterback position: ‘That’s a top priority for us this offseason’

Atlanta Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot speaks during the introductory press conference of Atlanta Falcons new head football coach Raheem Morris (not pictured) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Monday, February 5, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot speaks during the introductory press conference of Atlanta Falcons new head football coach Raheem Morris (not pictured) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Monday, February 5, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH – Now, that the dust has settled from the coaching search, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot gave an encompassing update on where the franchise is heading going into the NFL Scouting combine when it starts on Sunday and runs through March 4.

The Falcons are currently holding their February scouting meetings, while the coaching staff is evaluating the players on the roster. Also, Fontenot, while appearing on the NFL Report show co-hosted by Steve Wyche and James Palmer on Thursday, acknowledged the parameters of the team’s quarterback search, the depth of the draft at quarterback and the pressure positions on defense.

“We’re right in the midst of that process right now, the first step is to really take a hard look at your roster,” Fontenot said. “You really have to look internal. Before you go out and buy new clothes, you need to know what you have in your own closet.”

If your Seersucker suit is holding up, then you don’t have to get a new one. In the Falcons’ case, improved play at quarterback, wide receiver and in the pass rush in much needed.

“We are spending a lot of time with the coaches, not only the new coaches, but the coaches that have been here,” Fontenot said. “Going through our entire roster. We’ll spend time in those roster meetings in the coming weeks, once you do that, you spend a lot of time with the coaches, going through the specific profiles and the deep details of the players that we’re going to be bringing in.”

After the self-evaluation of the roster is complete the Falcons must come up with a plan to attack free agency, which opens on March 13, the start of the new league year. The draft is set for April 25-27 in Detroit.

“It starts off with looking at your own players,” Fontenot said.

Quarterbacks Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke are currently on the roster. But the Falcons have made it clear they are trying to improve the position.

“We won’t close any doors,” Fontenot said of the quarterback position. “That’s a top priority for us this offseason. It’s exciting again, not only people that have been in the building, but people outside the building in Raheem (Morris) and Zac (Robinson), T.J. Yates, Ken Zampese (and) D.J. Williams…we have a lot of really smart people in the building.”

The Falcons plan to leave no stone unturned.

“We are not going to close any doors,” Fontenot said. “Be it trades, free agency (or) the draft. We’ll make sure we keep an open mind there. We’ll attack it and make sure that we get it right.”

The Falcons hold the eighth overall pick in the draft and will need to trade up to get one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye are considered the top three heading into the combine. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Oregon’s Bo Nix and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy are in the next tier, but they all may be a reach with the eighth pick.

“We are right in the midst of our February draft meetings, our area scouts are in town,” Fontenot said. “We have a lot of stuff going on…. simultaneously to getting ready to (meet) with the coaches to review our roster. We are also going through our draft meetings, just with the scouts…. Then you get the coaches involved and then we get into the combine.”

Fontenot is stoked about the upcoming draft.

“I’ll tell you want, it’s a really strong draft not just at quarterback, but at a lot of positions,” Fontenot said. “So, that’s really fun.”

The Falcons are keeping an open phone line for any potential trades.

“You start talking right now, just touching base because you have some GMs that were just put in place in some areas,” Fontenot said. “You make sure that you have a line of communication open. You spend time at the combine. We are always talking about everything. We are very open to communicate…it’s going to be a fun year because I would say it’s a very strong draft.”

Fontenot wouldn’t address Bears quarterback Justin Fields specifically, because he did not want to violate the league’s tampering rules. However, he did discuss how teams must have current evaluations of players.

The Falcons passed on Fields with the fourth overall pick in the draft back in 2021. They selected tight end Kyle Pitts and Fields went to the Bears with the 11th overall pick.

The Bears, who have the No. 1 overall pick, could trade Fields to make room for Williams.

“You evaluate players at every point in their careers,” Fontenot said. “That’s a critical point as we go through free agency, and again, possible trades, we are evaluating every player. You are never going to look at a report from last year or the year before. We are going to look at the evolution of the players. Yes…. we have to be detailed and evaluate players in every phase.”

Fontenot reiterated that the Falcons must have “recent reports and know where they are at this point in their careers.”

Fields, who played at Harrison High, Georgia and Ohio State, gave the Falcons a “recent report” in the Bears’ 37-17 win over the Falcons on Dec. 31. He completed 20 of 32 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 11 times for 45 yards and a touchdown.

If the Falcons can’t land a quarterback in free agency or via trade, they’ll likely have to draft one.

“Good depth, no doubt,” Fontenot said. “There is some really good depth and some different flavors. There are different types of quarterbacks, who can do some different things. We are going through that process right now just with the scouts initially. Then we get the coaches involved.”

Overall, 14 quarterbacks have been invited to the scouting combine, including Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman, Tennessee’s Joe Milton III, South Carolina’ Spencer Rattler and Florida State’s Jordan Travis.

“We have some really good coaches, some smart guys that I’m excited to really attack that with so that we know what we are looking for specifically,” Fontenot said. “It’s a really good group of quarterbacks this year, not only in the draft, but like I said, free agency, via trade, there are some really talented players available and we’re ready to attack that.”

A lot of the early mock drafts have the Falcons taking Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner with the eighth overall pick.

“There are some really exciting guys at the top,” Fontenot said. “But also there is depth throughout. There are really good players throughout the entire draft… we’ve got a couple of extra draft picks this year.

“I’m excited about that because it’s a very deep draft and there are definitely some pressure players. Not just the edge guys, outside backers, there are some interior pressure players, so it’s exciting.”

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) breaks away in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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