Bradley’s Buzz: The Falcons need a coach, but they need a QB more

Of the NFL’s eight quarterfinalists, seven had starting quarterbacks taken in Round 1. The exception was San Francisco’s Brock Purdy, picked as far from Round 1 as is possible. With NFL quarterbacks, there’s usually an exception. There aren’t many, though.

The Falcons know this, or at least they should. Of the franchise’s 10 playoff victories, eight came with a Round 1 quarterback. Steve Bartkowski and Michael Vick went No. 1 overall; Matt Ryan was taken third, Chris Miller 13th. The exception was Chris Chandler, taken 76th overall by Indianapolis.

Of the Falcons’ 24 playoff games, 21 featured a starting quarterback taken in Round 1. The one not listed above was Jeff George, picked No. 1 overall by Indianapolis. Until Peyton Manning, the Falcons had better luck with QBs drafted by the Colts than the Colts did.

Over the past 10 NFL seasons, the NFL’s MVP was a Round 1 quarterback nine times. Lamar Jackson, who won the award in 2019, is about to win again. The exception was the greatest of all exceptions – Tom Brady, winner of seven Super Bowls and a three-time MVP. He went 199th in the 2000 draft.

Yes, you can win the Super Bowl without a Round 1 quarterback. Your chances, however, are better with a Round 1 quarterback. The Falcons tried to finesse things with Desmond Ridder, taken 74th overall, but in the end we saw why he went in Round 3. He was just good enough to get Arthur Smith fired, which is why the Falcons are where they are, conducting more interviews than Woodward and Bernstein.

In search of a head coach, the Falcons have interviewed 13 men, one of whom was their head coach, albeit on an interim basis. (As we know, this team once hired an HC it had, 11 years earlier, fired as HC.) They’ve interviewed Detroit’s offensive and defensive coordinators. They’ve interviewed Baltimore’s defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. They’ve interviewed Buffalo’s Joe Brady, who has time on his hands.

They’ve twice interviewed Bill Belichick, who has won more Super Bowls than any coach. Those six titles are reason to consider Belichick. That he won all six with T. Brady, who won a seventh elsewhere, is cause for pause. If the Falcons don’t get a real NFL quarterback, it won’t much matter who coaches them. With Mac Jones – a Round 1 pick – and Bailey Zappe, Belichick just went 4-13.

Drafting a quarterback in Round 1 – here’s your Ryan Leaf disclaimer – doesn’t always work, but it’s the place to start. The Falcons tried to go the Brock Purdy route by surrounding Ridder with top-level talent and letting it lift a so-so quarterback. Ridder made just enough mistakes to remind us why quarterback is the position where mistakes mean losses.

A former Falcons coach once pointed to a QB who started many NFL games, though rarely for winning teams. “If your quarterback isn’t better than that guy,” the coach would say, “you need a new quarterback.”

The Falcons hold the draft’s No. 8 pick, same as they did last year when, having decided to ride with Ridder, they chose not to move up for a quarterback. Russell Wilson could be available, possibly as a free agent. So might Kirk Cousins. Chicago is apt to trade Justin Fields.

Sometimes a Round 1 quarterback needs a re-start. The Rams dumped Jared Goff, who’d gone No. 1 overall and led them to a Super Bowl; he has brought the Lions to the cusp of a Super Bowl. Matthew Stafford, No. 1 in 2009, never won a playoff game with Detroit; he won a Super Bowl with the Rams. Baker Mayfield, yet another No. 1, was all but out of the league before settling with Tampa Bay.

Maybe the change-of-scenery course will lead Fields, a Round 1 pick in 2021, to Flowery Branch. Maybe he’ll lead the Falcons to the playoffs. For as much as we think we know about quarterbacks, we can’t know everything. This much we do know: The most important Falcons’ hire won’t be someone who never touches the ball; it’ll be the guy who takes every snap.

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