The Falcons aren’t saying much, not that you’d figure they would, except for this: “We’re going to add to the position, whether it’s free agency, the draft or both.”
That was general manger Terry Fontenot, speaking Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. The position in question is the one that matters most.
The Falcons have two quarterbacks on their roster, Marcus Mariota having been cut Tuesday. One is Desmond Ridder, taken in Round 3 of the 2022 draft and the starter of last season’s final four games. The other is Logan Woodside, signed off the Titans’ practice squad in December. He’s 28. He last threw an NFL pass in 2019.
The Falcons are, as they say, keeping all options open. Derek Carr, four times a Pro Bowler, is available. Carson Wentz, once a Pro Bowler, is again available. Lamar Jackson, the NFL’s 2019 MVP, could become available. Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s 2020 and 2021 MVP, could become available. (Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 and 2022 MVP, will not become available.)
Chicago, which appears to have decided to keep Justin Fields, could trade the No. 1 pick, which would be of interest to any team interested in Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Will Levis, the top three quarterbacks of this class. All could be taken in the draft’s first seven selections. The Falcons hold the eighth pick. It’s unclear whether they would spend it on Anthony Richardson of Florida, the most polarizing quarterback on the board.
This leaves the Falcons with much to ponder. A year ago, they pondered so hard they made a failed run at Deshaun Watson. This led them to trade Matt Ryan, their quarterback of 15 years, to the Colts for a Round 3 pick. This led to the signing of Mariota and the drafting of Ridder. If nothing else, the Falcons’ newish administration proved it could react to developments, even if that reaction triggered a full rebuild, which needed to happen anyway.
The Falcons are in better shape, cap-wise, than at any time since they started heaping windfall contracts on all the players who helped build a 25-point lead in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017. Not coincidentally, the team had losing seasons in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Given the shambolic state of the NFC South – Ridder might be the division’s best quarterback – the Falcons aren’t far from winning again.
But – and this is the biggest of “buts” – the Falcons aren’t sure if Ridder is good enough. As Fontenot said of Ridder: “He’s done some really good things. We know he’s going to improve this offseason.”
What Fontenot didn’t say: “Desmond Ridder is our quarterback.”
The draft isn’t until April 27. By then, we’ll have an idea of what the Falcons are planning. I’m not sure they’d have interest in Carr, who’s not a first-tier quarterback, or Rodgers, who’s 39. They have no need of Wentz, who has played his way through three organizations in two years. I’m certain they’d have interest in Jackson, who’s absolutely first-tier. The Ravens have a week to decide if they’ll affix the franchise tag.
Dumping Mariota saved the Falcons $12 million. They have $66M to spend, the second-highest total among NFL clubs. There are many ways to invest that much money. There’s no better way than to acquire a franchise quarterback who just turned 26. (Ridder will be 24 in August.)
In an interview posted on the Falcons’ website Monday, coach Arthur Smith said: “I do think Des’ future is bright.”
Then came the “but,” Smith saying: “We’re not naming any starters right now. There are a lot of things that can happen.”
Remember when we mentioned that all options are open? This was Smith: “All options are on the table.”
Within the next two months, the Falcons will avail themselves of an option. They’ll land a quarterback to play behind Ridder, or they’ll add one capable of playing ahead of him. We say again: Keep an eye on Baltimore. If the Ravens and Jackson fall out, Flowery Branch will become the center of the NFL universe.
The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
FAQ: How do you sign up? Go to the AJC.com home page. Click on “newsletters” at the top right. Click on “Sports Daily.” You’ll need to enter your email address. Thanks in advance, folks.
About the Author