Falcons: Can Desmond Ridder wrestle the starting job away from Marcus Mariota?

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At the beginning of the offseason, Falcons’ leadership debated what to do with Matt Ryan. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith deliberated on the long-time Falcons quarterback’s future and whether moving off of him would be best for the long-term health of the organization. Atlanta ended up trading Ryan to the Colts for a measly third-rounder while simultaneously failing to land disgruntled star Deshaun Watson.

The Falcons opted to remain flexible at the position by investing in stopgap Marcus Mariota with a two-year deal and Desmond Ridder with one of their third-round picks. That’s very little capital considering what other teams have given up for the position in the past — Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Trey Lance, etc.

Now, the Falcons will continue to build the foundation of the roster through the draft as they figure out if Mariota or Ridder is the long-term answer at quarterback. Mariota’s path to winning the starting job in the short term is much easier to see than his rookie counterpart. It wouldn’t be the first time Arthur Smith took a veteran quarterback off the streets and turned him into a viable starter — i.e., Ryan Tannehill. However, the thought process of selecting Ridder makes things a bit more interesting.

Even though Ridder is one of the more pro-ready prospects from this draft class, he’s probably still a ways away from being a starting-caliber quarterback in this league. But leaving him on the bench to develop could prove to be the wrong decision if the Falcons cannot evaluate his play against potential prospects in the 2023 draft and free agency cycles.

Can Ridder even beat out Mariota in training camp? Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot seem steadfast in their approach to remaining competitive at every position. I genuinely do believe Ridder will start Week 1 if he’s the better man for the job. However, I have a hard time believing the former Bearcat has enough experience to wrestle the starting position away from a veteran like Mariota.

There will be calls from the fanbase to play Ridder, but Smith isn’t going to jeopardize losing games just to evaluate the rookie quarterback. It might be the wrong call too. If the Falcons are in a position to grab one of the elite prospects in next year’s draft without any real idea of Ridder’s ability, it’ll make the decision that much more difficult.

As it stands right now, the Falcons are heading for a quarterback competition in camp, but don’t be surprised if it’s settled early because Mariota is firmly ahead of Ridder in terms of experience, knowledge of the offense, and ability at this point in their respective careers. However, that clearly isn’t the plan in Ridder’s eyes. According to a report from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Ridder outlined his plans to unseat a veteran on whichever team drafted him. It should make for an interesting battle in camp.

Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

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