Bradley’s Buzz: Job 1 for the Falcons’ Fontenot - find a quarterback

Now that the new head coach is in place, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot needs to find a new quarterback to lead the franchise heading into the 2024 season.

Credit: AJC file photo/Miguel Martinez

Credit: AJC file photo/Miguel Martinez

Now that the new head coach is in place, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot needs to find a new quarterback to lead the franchise heading into the 2024 season.

The 2023 Falcons should have been better. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) Going by yardage – not the fanciest metric, but still useful – they improved over the previous season in total offense, rising from 24th to 17th, and total defense, climbing from 27th to 11th. Their record didn’t budge.

Arthur Smith takes that record – 7-10 three seasons running – to his new job as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. (Coming after the overmatched Matt Canada, he’ll seem like Bill Walsh in Pittsburgh.) The man charged with stocking the Falcons’ roster remains in place.

Over three seasons as general manager, Terry Fontenot has effected sweeping change. Only six key contributors – Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, A.J. Terrell and Younghoe Koo – were inherited. Had Desmond Ridder been as good as was hoped, we’d be hailing Fontenot as executive-of-the-year material. Ridder’s failure means Job 1 is the only job on this GM’s list.

Fontenot must find a quarterback. With a real QB, everything falls into place. Without a real QB, nothing else matters.

Fontenot has used Round 1 picks – and, in Tyler Allgeier’s case, a Round 5 selection – to amass skill players. Going by last season’s snap counts, 10 of the Falcons’ top 11 defenders were acquired by this GM, eight as free agents. (Remember, it wasn’t until last winter that the club emerged from cap purgatory.)

The 2023 Falcons bore scant resemblance to the team of 2021, which had Matt Ryan and not much else. The Falcons of that year – Fontenot’s first – finished 7-10 and were outscored by 146 points. The Falcons of last season entered the final two weeks at 7-8 having been outscored by a point. We say yet again: They should have won the NFC South.

It wasn’t that Ridder led the world in turnovers. He threw 12 interceptions, fewer than Patrick Mahomes, and lost seven fumbles, the same number as Trevor Lawrence. Ridder became the Falcons’ undoing because he never – OK, almost never – made a small mistake. His were howlers. If not for the interception against Carolina on Dec. 17, Smith wouldn’t be packing the U-Haul for Pennsylvania.

The season of Ridder proved what coaches have said forever: Nobody gets you fired faster than your quarterback. Smith paid the price for believing he could win with Ridder. Fontenot kept his job with the expectation he’ll hire a better quarterback for the next HC.

There are, as we know, options. Kirk Cousins is a free agent. (He’s also coming off a torn Achilles tendon.) Russell Wilson is available. (He’s coming off two forgettable years in Denver.) Justin Fields is, we presume, available. (Though he didn’t render himself indispensable in Chicago, did he?)

As was the case last season, three QBs figure to go among the draft’s top five picks. If the tandem of Smith/Fontenot could have a do-over, the 2023 draft would be it. Working under the assumption that Ridder might just suffice, they stayed at No. 8 and took a running back – a good running back, but still.

Moving up to take Jayden Daniels might require trading Kyle Pitts, the first draftee under Smith/Fontenot, but three words should be etched into the lobby wall at 4400 Falcon Parkway, where Dan Quinn’s “Iron Sharpens Iron” was once the corporate slogan. The new edict: “Get A Quarterback.”

The season just completed shook the Falcons to the core. The beauty of sports is that there’s always another season. After an overstuffed search, Raheem Morris was hired as head coach. That’s a start.

The next big move will fall to Fontenot. The belief here is that, with one glaring exception, this GM has done well. The belief is, over these next few months, he’ll make that exception disappear.

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