Falcons’ Raheem Morris not naming names, but likes variety of quarterback options

GM Terry Fontenot on trading up: ‘A lot of those things are not accurate’

INDIANAPOLIS — Falcons coach Raheem Morris hit the juke button on a direct question about Justin Fields and Russell Wilson, but then gave some insight into the franchise’s thinking about their major offseason project.

“Two players under contract,” Morris said in response to a question from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I have so much respect for our fans that I won’t get myself in trouble or us in trouble talking about any particular person.

“But, it’s really exciting with the quarterback group that’s out there, that we have the ability to acquire. That is what our fan base, that’s what makes our front office, what makes our coaches all excited to be able to talk in our (meeting) rooms about those people.”

It’s no secret that the Falcons plan to leave no stone unturned in looking for improve quarterback play after Desmond Ridder underperformed last season. He finished with 12 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and 12 fumbles (including seven lost fumbles) and was benched twice in favor of Taylor Heinicke.

“If we had better quarterback play last year in Atlanta, I might not be standing here,” Morris said.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot debunked reports that the team is focused on trading up in the draft.

“We’re keeping all of the options open,” Fontenot said. “We can trade up. We can trade back. We can stay at eight. Those reports come out, and I don’t actually see all of the reports when they come out. You never know where they are coming from. ... A lot of those things are not accurate and they create narratives. But look, we are wide open.”

The Falcons plan to interview the quarterback prospects at the combine.

“It’s a really good group,” Fontenot said. “It’s a strong draft overall. The quarterback position is strong, and you have some different types, too. Guys that do it different ways. But it’s a really good group. So, it’s very exciting that we’ll be talking to those guys over the next couple of days.”

Morris was hired to replace Arthur Smith, who posted a 21-30 record over three seasons. Morris, who has a 21-38 record as a head coach/interim coach, became the franchise’s 19th head coach Jan. 25.

With a little over a month on the job, Morris is set on moving the franchise in a new direction.

“Now, it’s time to implement a couple of new things,” Morris said. “Go out there and find out who’s going to be the triggerman for us. Put ourselves in position to win. I’m not afraid to say that we have the ability, and we’re capable of going out there and win next year.

“If we do some of the right things, the right moves, we can do that. That’s not an arrogance. That is not a cockiness. That’s more of a credit to the people that were in the building with me. Some of the people that are not there now and what they’ve been able to do.”

Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield also may become available in free agency. He spent some time with the Rams in 2022 when Morris and offensive coordinator Zac Robinson were on Sean McVay’s coaching staff.

“I won’t bring up names,” Morris said when asked about Mayfield. “When you are going through the process, you have everything open. We have got so many avenues because we have free-agency money.

“We have the ability to trade. Whether it be trading for a player on another team or trading up or back in the draft. It’s really about having the different scenarios that you want to have when you talk about the quarterback positions. You’ve got option A. You’ve got option B. You’ve got option C. You’ve got option D.”

Morris noted that he surrounded himself with several former quarterbacks on his coaching staff.

Robinson played quarterback at Oklahoma State and had a cup of coffee in the NFL. Quarterbacks coach T.J. Yates played at North Carolina and in the NFL.

Senior assistant Ken Zampese is the son of Ernie Zampese, one of Don Coryell’s trusted lieutenants of the famed Air Coryell offense.

Offensive assistant/assistant quarterbacks coach D.J. Williams is the son of former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl hero Doug Williams. Like his father, he played quarterback at Grambling. Offensive assistant K.J. Black played quarterback at Western Kentucky and Prairie View A&M.

Passing-game specialist Chandler Whitmer played quarterback at Connecticut and worked with Fields at Ohio State.

“You want to have different opinions to allow the decision-makers to make the proper decisions when the time comes up,” Morris said.

Evaluating the quarterback position has been problematic in the NFL.

“It’s been difficult throughout the years, right,” Morris said. “We all evaluated Tom Brady wrong and drafted him in the sixth round (in 2000). He turned out to be one of the best players, if not the best quarterback (that) the National Football League has ever seen. It has continuously been an issue for everybody.”

The Falcons passed on Fields with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft.

The Falcons botched a trade for Deshaun Watson and then traded Matt Ryan for a third-round pick. They signed Marcus Mariota to replace Ryan, and then drafted Ridder in the third round (74th overall) in 2022.

The Falcons could find themselves on that quarterback carrousel that led the Browns to offer Watson a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract.

“But you (must) have your profile set up and what you look for,” Morris said. “You (must) have your process ready to go. You want the guy to have the intangibles. Be smart. Be a gamer and be a player. We know those things. Then you try to go out and find those guys and (see) who’s displayed that on the best level and try to make that decision.”

The Falcons are going into their quarterback meetings at the combine with an open mind.

“It’s arguably the hardest position in sports,” Morris said.

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