The Falcons’ process of finding a quarterback has been flawed. Regardless of where you look at the timeline, there never seems to be a consistent theme or direction.
From the get-go, Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot made it known they wouldn’t even utter the “R” word — rebuild. It was evident in the decision to make Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, instead of finding a potential Matt Ryan successor.
The following offseason was more of the same. The Falcons pursued Deshaun Watson with Ryan still on the roster, alienating a portion of the fan base and the greatest player in franchise history. Eventually, the Browns swooped in with an unprecedented fully guaranteed contract, leaving the Falcons holding their pockets.
Atlanta decided to do what was best for Matt Ryan and give him a chance to return to the playoffs with the Colts. In the wake of that trade, the Falcons inked Marcus Mariota to a two-year deal and drafted Desmond Ridder in the third round.
Whether they wanted to admit it or not, they were rebuilding. They’d either be starting a backup, journeyman veteran or a third-round project. The Falcons chose to roll with Mariota and let Ridder learn behind him because it gave them the best chance to win at the time. There was no thought about 2023 with that decision.
Instead of immediately seeing what they had in Desmond Ridder, Arthur Smith stubbornly threw Marcus Mariota out there week after week, despite middling results. The Falcons were mediocre, and it was clear that the quarterback position was holding them back, but it would be unrealistic to expect Ridder to come in and be better immediately.
Through four starts at the end of last season, there was nothing to suggest Ridder deserved the starting job in 2023. The offseason came, and the Falcons once again made decisions based on winning today instead of tomorrow, drafting Bijan Robinson.
Well, that’s fine if the club brings in competition, which they did in the form of Taylor Heinicke, but we quickly learned it was Ridder’s team and there would be no quarterback battle in training camp.
That’s fine. Arthur Smith was putting his eggs in Ridder’s basket. I didn’t feel strongly one way or the other, but it was a strange decision to put that amount of faith in a third-round pick.
Through seven and a half games this season, it was a rollercoaster. The Falcons struggled to find consistency on the offensive side of the ball, and the common denominator was Desmond Ridder. In just one half of football, Taylor Heinicke showed more against the Titans than Ridder had in 12 starts, giving Arthur Smith no choice but to roll with the veteran this week against the Vikings.
The Falcons find themselves in quarterback purgatory because even if Heinicke shows some chops, he’s not a realistic long-term option. The state of an organization is only as good as its quarterback, and that falls at the feet of Arthur Smith. He has nobody to blame but himself.
Smith has passed on prospects, free agents, veterans on the trade market, etc. for Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder. The process, not the results, is what bothers me the most. The Falcons made decisions with no sense of direction, and I don’t trust the new regime to make the right ones now.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire