This marked the franchise’s fifth consecutive losing season. It was the first of the five to end on a true uptick. After the 7-9s of 2018 and 2019, we knew Dan Quinn would, for no clear reason, be returning. After the 4-12 of 2020, the Falcons had no head coach and no general manager. After the 7-10 of last season, they faced a decision re: Matt Ryan. Their failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson wound up making it for them. After Ryan’s season in Indianapolis, you’d have to say they got lucky.
Ridder’s four games – only one came against a team that finished above .500 – were enough to earn him a longer look. Every decision the Falcons make this offseason must be viewed through the prism of Ridder. If the Falcons believe he can be a playoff-level quarterback, they won’t be obliged to draft another QB. If they feel his ceiling isn’t quite so high, they’d better find someone whose is.
Some drafts are light on quarterbacks. The top three of this class – Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Will Levis – look more promising than any in the 2022 draft, but they’re not to be confused with Joe Burrow. Is Levis a cut above Ridder? Maybe. Are the Falcons willing to trade up for Stroud or Young? Probably not. Should they wait to see more of Ridder before sinking more draft capital and cash money into the same position? Probably.
Under Smith and GM Terry Fontenot, the Falcons have done well at staffing the skill positions, landing Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Tyler Allgeier. Their offensive line isn’t bad. Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, Round 1 picks under the previous front office, have panned out. Another Smith asset: He knows his O-lines.
Given that Smith is terrific at shaping a running game, does he need a Patrick Mahomes-level passer? Smith was the Titans’ offensive coordinator in 2019, when Ryan Tannehill, never a Pro Bowler, led the NFL in passer rating and yards per attempt. (He made the Pro Bowl, too.) It helped that Derrick Henry led the league in rushing. Play-action is a wonderful thing.
Football Outsiders ranked the Falcons’ offense the league’s 13th-best; its defense was third-worst. The most familiar number associated with this franchise – apart from “28″ and “3″ – are its microscopic sack totals. The 2021 defense finished with 18, fewest among NFL clubs. The 2022 number rose to 21, the second-fewest. Coordinator Dean Pees, who just retired for the third time, wouldn’t seem indispensable. A pass-rusher always would be welcome here.
We can’t yet know what the Falcons are thinking. We will soon enough. If they look to deal for a high-profile quarterback, it’s a sign they’re not sure if Ridder is ready. If they draft a quarterback in Round 1, it’s a sign they’re not sold on Ridder at all. If the most they do is add a career backup, it’s a sign they believe they have their No. 1 already.
And maybe they do. Me, I might kick the tires on Derek Carr.