That doesn’t mean Smith and Fontenot haven’t considered life beyond Ryan. They’re the new stewards of an organization that hasn’t done much of anything since 28-3. At some point they’ll need another new quarterback. But is there a compelling reason to invest in maybe the fourth-best quarterback in this draft and pay him millions to hold a clipboard for a year or two? (Not that anyone has clipboards anymore. They all have Microsoft tablets.)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) goes high to catch a pass over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler during the second half Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)
If you’ve decided that Ryan is still your quarterback — there’s no indication Smith/Fontenot have done otherwise — then taking a high-profile understudy is the quickest way to guaranteeing that the 2021 season will be no better than the past three. The new regime had to go bargain-shopping in free agency because, as Fontenot said Monday, “we are in a difficult cap situation; that’s just the circumstance and it’s not a surprise for us.” (Remember when Thomas Dimitroff and Rich McKay kept saying the Falcons weren’t in cap hell?)
If you’re sticking with Ryan, then you’re not launching a full-blown rebuild. If you’re not in a full-blown rebuild, you’d better be serious about winning soon, and the way to win is to put better players around Ryan. If that remains the aim, then you can’t in good conscience trade the greatest receiver — maybe the greatest player at any position — this franchise has had, meaning Julio Jones.
Let’s face it: They’d never get anything approximating full value in exchange for J. Jones. Dimitroff pried a Round 2 pick from New England for Mohamed Sanu, and that was considered a windfall. They might get two or three picks in a Julio deal, but they’d have a tough time landing a prime Round 1 choice. The only clubs that would pay big in draft capital for a 32-year-old receiver are those close to the top but not quite there, and the absorption of his contract would be a signal that they’re in Super-Bowl-or-bust mode, a declaration not many are willing to make.
More guessing. The Falcons will draft a quarterback in 2021, but it won’t be in the first round. They’ll also weigh the pros/cons of trading down to acquire extra picks and spend them on defenders, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, but they’ll also ask themselves: What’s the quickest route to getting good again? Answer: drafting Kyle Pitts, the outrageously gifted Florida tight end.
Having Pitts to go with Jones and Calvin Ridley would make any quarterback better, and Ryan isn’t just any quarterback. Until we’re told otherwise, he’s the Falcons’ quarterback. The worst thing they could do is stick with Ryan but — by trading Jones, say — lessen his chances of succeeding. That’d make no sense.
As Mike Ehrmantraut counseled Walter White: “No half-measures.” You’re either rebuilding or you’re not. If Ryan’s your quarterback, you’re not rebuilding. Retooling, maybe, but not rebuilding.