Falcons deemed best fit by ESPN in Lamar Jackson trade hypothetical

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The Lamar Jackson saga took a wild turn when the 26-year-old MVP tweeted he had requested a trade from the Ravens at the beginning of the month. Meanwhile, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh was fielding questions at the annual league meetings in Pheonix. It’s created a stir and once again propelled the Falcons to the forefront of conversations.

Atlanta has seemingly been the most mentioned destination in the Lamar Jackson sweepstakes, and for good reason. The club can facilitate a trade with their arsenal of draft picks and has enough cap space in the future to give him the lucrative contract he desires. Moreover, the fit in Arthur Smith’s offense is seamless, and the Falcons don’t have a franchise quarterback.

Thus prompting analysts like ESPN’s Bill Barnwell to identify the Falcons as a logical landing spot; Barnwell named Atlanta the best fit over a dozen other organizations.

Why they should consider it: After two years in the cap wilderness, the Falcons are finally in position to take a swing. General manager Terry Fontenot has cleared out more than $67 million in space, and with a wide-open NFC South, Atlanta can credibly hope to compete for a division title if it has a great offseason. Coach Arthur Smith’s offense quietly ranked among the league’s best despite starting Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder at quarterback, and its young core should only be better in 2023.

It’s not hard to figure out why the Falcons should consider it. Not only is the division wide open, but the conference is also there for the taking. The Eagles and 49ers are the only teams with a legitimate chance at winning a Super Bowl in the NFC. The Falcons, with Lamar Jackson, would immediately become favorites within the division and serious contenders in the conference, but there’s certainly a downside associated with such a move.

Why they shouldn’t consider it: The Falcons might want to get a longer look at Ridder, who started the final four games of the season after being drafted in the third round last year. He looked overmatched in a debut loss to the Saints, but Ridder was better over the three ensuing contests, posting an above-average 54.5 QBR while winning a pair of games. Those victories admittedly came against Cardinals and Buccaneers teams with nothing to play for and backup quarterbacks in the game for some or all of the contest, so it might be worth taking those numbers with a grain of salt.

ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that the Falcons aren’t intending to pursue Jackson, which would be a shame. Obviously, given that I have them as the best possible fit, I love the idea of Jackson going to the Falcons. It seems likely they’ll move forward with Ridder or another quarterback under center in 2023.

Desmond Ridder could be the franchise quarterback the Falcons are searching for; nobody quite knows. The team is high on the former third-rounder, and he’s on a rookie contract that could enable the Falcons to spend considerable capital on the rest of the roster, but the fit with Jackson is undeniable.

Would they be a good fit for Jackson? I love the fit. Smith featured Mariota’s ability to run in the offense a year ago, with Mariota averaging seven carries and 34 rushing yards per contest. It wouldn’t be a stretch to insert Jackson into an expanded version of that role. From Week 9 on, Tyler Allgeier averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 79 rushing yards per game, and he would give Jackson some help in the backfield.

With the line taking a step forward after the improvement of right tackle Kaleb McGary, Jackson should be protected when he drops back. The big question is whether Jackson and Smith can coax big plays out of Drake London and Kyle Pitts in the passing attack. Pitts was much better in 2021 without London than with the big wideout in 2022, and London played his best football after Pitts was sidelined by a right knee injury. Having used consecutive top-10 picks on pass-catchers, Fontenot clearly was preparing to build an offense for his quarterback of the future.

So, if a trade did come to fruition, what would it look like? The Falcons could part ways with two first-rounders because Lamar Jackson is currently under the non-exclusive franchise tag. After pursuing Deshaun Watson last offseason, one would think the Falcons would be willing to acquiesce to the Ravens asking price.

Would they be willing to trade two first-round picks? The Falcons sorely need to add players to their front seven, but unless they think Ridder is a franchise quarterback in the making, it would be reasonable for Fontenot to package his next two first-rounders to go get Jackson.

What would a deal look like? The Ravens might try to make a move for cornerback A.J. Terrell after the 2020 first-round pick took a step backward last season, but given Atlanta’s cap space, this would likely be an offer sheet and a deal involving two first-round picks. The Ravens would inherit the No. 8 pick in 2023 and have the possibility of landing another top-10 pick next year, while the Falcons would have a viable path toward their first winning record since 2017.

To Barnwell’s point about the compensation, the Falcons wouldn’t have to give up this year’s top-ten pick if they waited until after the draft. And I can absolutely guarantee with Lamar Jackson, the Falcons won’t finish in the top ten next year. If the Falcons somehow pulled it off after the draft, Atlanta would have Lamar Jackson for first-round picks in 2024 and 2025, which will undoubtedly be in the latter half of the first round.

Even with all that being said, I see a trade as unlikely because of how firm the Falcons came out against the idea, per Russini’s original report.

Photographer: Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire

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