For the longest time, I never believed professional players and organizations tanked. It went against everything in their DNA. The most competitive alphas in their sport wouldn’t lose on purpose to benefit their teams, nor would owners want their image to be one associated with losers.
Until now… the owner of the Dolphins, Stephen M. Ross, was suspended six games last year and fined $1.5 million for violating policies related to the integrity of the game, which is basically a fancy way of saying he incentivized and tried convincing his head coach at the time, Brian Flores, to tank for a better draft pick.
Obviously, it didn’t work out and blew up in Miami’s face, but it shed new light on professional sports. Maybe they are willing to tank for generational talents… like Caleb Williams. Now, Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report is suggesting teams do it for the reigning Heisman winner, and the Falcons are among those clubs.
This year’s Atlanta Falcons will serve as a case study of what or what not to do at the quarterback position. Desmond Ridder has already been the named the starter, with public support from team owner Arthur Blank.
“We’re very excited about Desmond Ridder,” Blank told reporters in February. “I think from the time he came into training camp, he showed great capabilities as a leader amongst the rookies and then amongst the vets.”
Interestingly, the organization chose to build around last year’s third-round pick instead of trying to outright replace him or at least provide legitimate competition this offseason. General manager Terry Fontenot continued with his plan to build the best possible cockpit for whomever lines up behind center.
In three straight draft classes, the Falcons chose skill position performers among the Top 10, starting with tight end Kyle Pitts, then wide receiver Drake London and finally running back Bijan Robinson.
Atlanta also fortified its trenches by signing right guard Chris Lindstrom to a record-setting five-year, $102.5 million contract extension, re-signing right tackle Kaleb McGary and drafting Matthew Bergeron to immediately compete at left guard.
Despite all of these steps, the Falcons may be delaying the inevitable.
Fontenot and Co. can’t operate as if a recent third-round pick is the solution to their problems. If Ridder tears it up during his sophomore campaign, that’s great. But the organization must currently look at the best possible path toward winning championships, which is upgrading at quarterback by any means necessary.
Listen, this kind of discourse once seemed pointless, but Ross and the Dolphins gave us pause. Still, I am 99.999999999% sure the Falcons and Arthur Smith are trying to win every possible game, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
Every head coach and every player in the league are too competitive and too prideful to lose games on purpose. Moreover, some of these guys, who are set to test free agency, are playing for jobs next year. They don’t call the NFL ‘Not For Long’ for no reason. Nobody’s job is safe except for the owners.
Arthur Blank is the only one with a potential incentive to tank to land Caleb Williams. Still, out of all the owners, there aren’t many who want to win worse than Blank, and he’ll spend to do it.
Just think back to the former regime. Atlanta kept pushing its chips all in to try and get back to the Super Bowl. It ended in disaster. The new regime inherited a roster comprised of bloated, overpriced contracts of aging veterans. Now, they’ve finally put all that dead cap behind them with a competitive roster in the weakest division in football.
It’s a fun thought to imagine the Falcons with Caleb Williams, but it’s playoffs or bust in Atlanta this year.