Bradley’s Buzz: The Falcons have their man (Ridder) and their plan

Maybe the Falcons have known all along. Maybe they were just slow in telling us. That’s the impression Arthur Smith, their coach, gave in his media session at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix. “The plan is obviously to start Desmond,” Smith said, though it hadn’t been all that obvious until Tuesday.

Arthur Blank, who owns the team, conceded his club gave thought to pursuing Lamar Jackson, who wants out of Baltimore. “We did a form of an evaluation,” Blank said. Then the Falcons decided to give the passer a pass, as it were.

Blank again: “Having compensation at 25 percent (of the salary cap) tied up in one player, we’ve lived through that. … We need to build a team.”

That’s a reasonable decision. Jackson would have returned the Falcons to the days of Matt Ryan, and those days weren’t ancient. (Blank: “Last year we set a record for most dead (cap) money in the history of the NFL.”) Jackson would also have been more than a decade younger than Ryan and a more recent NFL MVP, but the team made a considered choice.

Going with Desmond Ridder, a Round 3 draftee who has started four pro games, is also a considered choice. The Falcons have seen every pass he has thrown since arriving in Flowery Branch. If they believe he has a chance to be good enough, that should be good enough for us. What NFL team has ever erred in its assessment of quarterbacks?

(All of them, but let’s table that, at least for the moment.)

Ridder’s the guy. Taylor Heinicke was acquired for the express purpose of being the No. 1 QB’s understudy. That’s fine, too. Guys get hurt. You always need a backup.

Smith didn’t say, “We’re not drafting a quarterback in Round 1,” but his endorsement of Ridder was so fulsome as to be wholly heartfelt or the world’s greatest smokescreen. Maybe they’ll exercise the No. 8 pick on a pass rusher, though they just added Calais Campbell, who’s 36 but has been known to drop a quarterback. Maybe they’ll take Nolan Smith, the linebacker from Georgia. Maybe Jalen Carter will fall to the Falcons.

Back to quarterbacks, though. Yours truly has devoted millions of words to the Falcons’ options, the belief being that a big-time quarterback is needed to win a Super Bowl. But the Eagles just reached a Super Bowl with Jalen Hurts, a Round 2 quarterback who was a shock draftee, given that Philadelphia had Carson Wentz, taken No. 2 overall in 2016. What if someone’s available who’s better than the guy you’ve got?

The plan is to start Ridder. But what if Anthony Richardson of Florida is undrafted when the Falcons are on the clock? Is there such a thing as having too many quarterbacks? (Probably.) Is there such a thing as investing too much of your cap allotment in quarterbacks? (Definitely.)

And what if Smith, who turned the 31-year-old Ryan Tannehill into a Pro Bowler with the Titans, has decided a merely competent quarterback can take a team where it wants to go? Tennessee and Tannehill reached the AFC championship game in January 2020. Kyle Shanahan went to one Super Bowl with Jimmy Garappolo and almost another with Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy. Is the definition of “franchise quarterback” changing?

You’d still rather have Patrick Mahomes than not have Patrick Mahomes, but there’s only one of him. Nobody has likened Desmond Ridder to Aaron Rodgers, but how many Super Bowls has the apparently inbound Jet won over the past decade?

The Falcons play in the NFC South. The Saints imported Derek Carr, who’s 32 and who has never played in a winning postseason game. The Buccaneers landed Baker Mayfield, on his fourth franchise in two years. The Panthers traded up to draft Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. It’s entirely possible that a team with good receivers, good runners and an improved defense could win this division with Ridder.

That’s the plan, obviously. It might just work.

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