The Falcons seem to be on the cusp of quarterback purgatory. Some might even consider the club is already there.
How did we get here?
When the new regime took over, Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot refused to say the “R” word (rebuild). They wanted to compete with Matt Ryan and start to establish a winning (or at least competitive) culture.
Coming into the 2021 season, many expected Smith and Fontenot to explore the quarterback class that featured Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones to learn behind an experienced Matt Ryan. They made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in history, backing up their “we want to compete” words with actions.
That campaign was a bag of mixed results with most of the shortcomings due to the personnel, but Ryan still looked like a shell of himself. He got by thanks to savvy veteran-ness; it was clear he had lost a step, though.
Going into the offseason, the Falcons had to dip their toes in the quarterback market. The upcoming draft class was much less enticing than the prior, but the club went a different direction, pursuing disgraced quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Not only did the decision alienate a portion of the fan base, but it also alienated the greatest player in franchise history. Regardless of landing Watson or not, the Falcons had to trade Matt Ryan. They didn’t land Watson, though.
Now, without Watson or Ryan, the Falcons were left holding their pockets. Their solution? Sign Marcus Mariota, who hadn’t been a full-time starter in years, and draft Desmond Ridder in the third round. Awesome!
A lot of Falcons fans were confused. What was the plan? In my opinion, I don’t think Arthur Smith or Terry Fontenot knew the plan. They were acting in the short term, trying to win every game, so Mariota started. It was probably the correct decision in the immediate of trying to field the best team possible.
Unfortunately, the Falcons didn’t think about what this would affect down the road.
Mariota struggled mightily. It lasted too long as well, and it was clear he held the offense back but didn’t lose his job until the final four weeks of the season in the name of being “competitive.”
Ridder came in and started those final four games, but he didn’t do anything to prove he should’ve just been handed the reins in 2023 without any competition. Ridder hardly improved over the course of four games, but it was too small of a sample size to make any sweeping judgments about him as a player.
We thought that Atlanta had brought in competition in the form of Taylor Heinicke, who was one of the highest-paid backups in football. Shortly after players reported to camp, we realized it wasn’t a position battle at all. It was Ridder’s team.
Now, we have a better idea of who Desmond Ridder is as a player. Sure, he could develop into a serviceable starter, but at what cost? This Falcons roster is ready to compete right now, where it wasn’t in a place to do in 2021 or 2022. Nope, we have to basically watch what we should’ve figured out last season — Is Desmond Ridder the guy or not?
The Falcons’ quarterback problems originated in 2022 when Arthur Smith’s pride got in the way of long-term planning. They’ll likely enter the offseason in the quarterback market unless there’s an unforeseen turnaround from Ridder. And why do we trust this regime to make the right decision at the position? They’ve swung and missed too many times already.
Photographer: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire