Falcons release Marcus Mariota, gain $12 million in salary-cap space

INDIANAPOLIS — The Marcus Mariota experiment officially is over in Atlanta.

Before the start of the NFL scouting combine and free-agency talks, Mariota was released by the Falcons on Tuesday. His departure gives the Falcons an additional $12 million in salary-cap space, pushing their total to $66 million.

“We really appreciate Marcus and all of the things he did while he was here,” general manager Terry Fontenot said. “Personally, professionally (he’s) a great man. We are doing what’s best for the team at this time.”

After starting at quarterback for the first 13 games of the 2022 season, Mariota was placed on injured reserve Dec. 14 and missed the remainder of the season. His release came less than a year after signing a two-year deal following the trade of Matt Ryan.

With Mariota released, Desmond Ridder and Logan Woodside are the only quarterbacks on the 90-man offseason roster. Ridder started the final four games of the season and went 2-2.

“Well, we’re going to add to the position,” Fontenot said. “We’ve been really clear with how we feel about Desmond Ridder and what he’s done to this point in his career. His makeup and just the way he’s handled every role he’s been in.”

Last offseason, the Falcons elected to move on from Ryan, who guided the team for the previous 14 seasons. The Falcons entered the Deshaun Watson derby but folded their cards when Cleveland threw a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed deal on the table.

After starting at quarterback for the first 13 games of the 2022 season, quarterback Marcus Mariota was placed on injured reserve Dec. 14 and missed the remainder of the season. His release came less than a year after signing a two-year deal following the trade of Matt Ryan. (Miguel Martinez file photo / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Veteran options this offseason currently include Derek Carr, Carson Wentz and possibly Aaron Rodgers. The league also is closely watching Lamar Jackson’s situation in Baltimore. The Ravens have until March 7 to place the franchise tag on Jackson.

Ridder apparently didn’t do enough to be declared the quarterback of the future.

“What he did in the last four games of the season, he dealt with adversity,” Fontenot said. “He got off the mat. He kept fighting. So, Desmond has done some good things. We know he’s going to continue to improve this offseason. Yet, we’re going to add to the position whether it’s free agency, the draft, or both.”

The Falcons passed on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the 2021 draft when they picked fourth overall.

They passed on Kenny Pickett and made Ridder the second quarterback taken in the 2022 draft when he was picked in the third round (74th overall).

The Falcons are set to pick eighth, but the top quarterback prospects – Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis – are expected to be long gone.

The Falcons will scout the quarterbacks projected to go in the middle-to-late rounds, including Georgia’s Stetson Bennett.

“We’ve talked about the quarterback position and how we want to make sure we continue to add to that position,” Fontenot said. “We want to keep bringing players in. So, really excited about Desmond, but we’re going to add to the position.”

The Falcons have 23 players set to enter free agency March 15, including starting right tackle Kaleb McGary, leading tackler Rashaan Evans and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.

The Falcons have 23 players set to enter free agency March 15, including starting right tackle Kaleb McGary, leading tackler Rashaan Evans (54) and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. (Curtis Compton file photo)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“No updates right now,” Fontenot said. “We’re working hard with some of those players, and some of them we’re gonna be able to bring back in here and get extensions done. Some will happen soon. Some will take a little bit of time. Some we won’t be able to bring back.”

The Falcons have set parameters for their free-agency spending.

“We have to stay within those and have discipline, whether you’re talking about players outside our building or inside our building,” Fontenot said. “We’re working through that.”

The Falcons have posted back-to-back 7-10 records in Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith’s first two seasons.

“We do have an identity, and we believe we do have a foundation,” Fontenot said. “We’ve seen some good things in the building. The thing that we really want to focus on when we are bringing players in the building is making sure we’re adding to the culture.”

The Falcons have the means to be a major player in free agency. Only the Chicago Bears have more salary-cap space.

“Clearly we have a lot of flexibility,” Fontenot said. “That was a part of the plan. This is the phase we’re in. But we have to be cautious because we’re not trying to get instant credibility or win a press conference. We want to make sure that we’re bringing in the right type of players for our building.”

The Falcons are set to meet with representatives of their free agents at the combine. They can meet with representatives of other teams’ free agents when the legal tampering period starts March 13.

“When you have a lot of cap space, there’s a reason you have a lot of cap space,” Fontenot said. “That means you have a lot of work to do. We have to add to every position, every phase.”