In the meantime, it’s clear what the Falcons need to do: Root for Calvin Ridley and the Jaguars. Stick with me on this.
Ridley once was a budding star at wide receiver for the Falcons. He stepped away from the team in October 2021 to focus on his “mental well-being.” Then the NFL suspended Ridley for the 2022 season for betting on football games. The Falcons traded Ridley to the Jaguars last year for a 2023 fifth-round draft pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick.
According to an ESPN report, the conditional pick will be in the third round if Ridley plays at least 60% of the offensive snaps this season. He’s played 86% of the snaps with two games to go. The conditional pick will be in the second round if Ridley re-signs with the Jaguars, who currently lead the AFC South. The Jags surely will try to retain quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s best wide receiver if the team makes a playoff run.
An extra second-round pick would sweeten the package the Falcons could use to move up in the draft order with a trade. They currently are 10th and can move no higher than eighth if they win another game. That’s too late to pick one of what appears to be the consensus top three QBs: Caleb Williams (USC), Drake Maye (North Carolina), and Jayden Daniels (LSU). If the Falcons stand pat, they could pick from second tier that includes Bo Nix (Oregon), J.J. McCarthy (Michigan) and Michael Penix Jr. (Washington).
The Falcons should not stand pat. They should aggressively pursue an upgrade at quarterback for 2024 and beyond.
Blank wasn’t willing to pay Jackson his worth. He should be willing to allow general manager Terry Fontenot go all-in for one of the best quarterbacks in the next draft. If Fontenot is iffy on that plan, then Blank should be asking him hard questions about how the GM expects to improve the QB position. Forget about free agency because the 2024 QB class is weak, as usual.
The fate of quarterbacks who are drafted to lead franchises depends heavily on the quality of the organization. Just look at two quarterbacks that Fontenot passed on in the 2021 draft, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. The teams that drafted them might already be looking to move on.
Fields is on the come since returning from injury. That hasn’t ended speculation that Bears GM Ryan Poles, who didn’t draft Fields, will select a QB with the first-round pick he acquired from Carolina (currently it’s No. 1). The Patriots also could choose to reset at quarterback after Jones regressed from his strong rookie season.
If the Falcons draft a QB in the first round, he would be better set up for success than Fields or Jones. The Falcons have good talent at the skill positions with Robinson, Kyle Pitts, and Drake London. They have a strong running game. Nearly every key member of this season’s improved defense is under contract for 2024 with a manageable cap figure.
The Falcons need a better quarterback if they ever hope to be serious Super Bowl contenders again. Heck, they need a better quarterback if they ever hope to win the NFC South again. The division isn’t going to be this bad forever. At some point, the Falcons need to aspire to do more than win one more game than they lose and slip into the playoffs.
The best way to do that is to find a quarterback who makes the offense better than the sum of its parts. There aren’t many of them. That’s why Jackson’s availability was unprecedented. MVP-caliber quarterbacks never make it to the market. Above-average starters rarely do.
Kirk Cousins might be the only viable starter in the 2024 free-agent class. He sustained a season-ending Achilles injury Oct. 29 and will be 36 years old next season. The rest of the list is a collection of backups and journeymen. The Bucs are on track to win the South with a marginal QB (Baker Mayfield), but the Falcons should aim higher.
Fontenot and Arthur Smith failed to do that when they anointed Ridder as the starter for 2024. He wasn’t ready. Ridder’s habit of putting the ball at risk eventually led Smith to bench him again. Ridder might figure things out some day, but the Falcons can’t afford to count on him anymore.
Heinicke also isn’t the answer. The Falcons might have a couple of more wins if Smith had stuck with Heinicke as the starter. Then again, Sunday’s victory over the Colts was their first in three games with Heinicke starting. He’s a solid, savvy veteran but the Falcons need an upgrade.
That’s why they should be rooting for Ridley. Another high draft pick would give the Falcons more options for finding their next franchise quarterback after they foolishly passed on the chance to sign Jackson.