Falcons free agent QB targets to compete with Desmond Ridder

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The Falcons are going to be a team to watch this offseason. The club has the second-most cap space in the league and a roster in desperate need of an influx of talent. There isn’t a single position group that doesn’t need starting-caliber talent or depth pieces, including quarterback. Desmond Ridder showed poise and grew each outing but didn’t do enough to lock up the starting job in 2023. There’s no doubt that the Falcons will add to the group.

The Falcons currently have Ridder and Marcus Mariota under contract, but it’s widely agreed upon the veteran will be a cap casualty. Feleipe Franks is under contract too, but he’s practically a tight end that could play quarterback in an emergency. Suffice to say Terry Fontenot will be bringing in multiple quarterbacks this offseason.

Atlanta has been mentioned as a potential landing spot for several veterans that could be available for trade. Derek Carr is the most readily available, while Lamar Jackson‘s situation in Baltimore is still unclear. I imagine the Ravens will lock him up, but there is an outside chance that he is traded. There’s also the highly touted draft class. Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson are all options.

The Falcons would have to trade up to land some of those prospects, while others are projects that would benefit sitting at first. However, I think the team is most likely to sign a free agent quarterback to compete in training camp with Desmond Ridder, hoping the former third-rounder comes out as the starter. Here are some names that are expected to hit the market:

Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Jacoby Brissett, Taylor Heinicke, Drew Lock, Gardner Minshew

Free agents like Jimmy Gorappolo and Geno Smith aren’t realistic possibilities because they’ll garner starter money; the Falcons shouldn’t be looking into signing a quarterback unless it’s a superstar like Lamar Jackson. The guys I listed are options I believe would come to Atlanta to compete with Desmond Ridder for the starting job without breaking the bank.

We’ll begin with the one who will likely garner the largest contract — Jacoby Brissett. The veteran led the Browns to a more than respectable record before Deshaun Watson took over. He honestly doesn’t get enough credit for his 11 games. He should once again be one of the highest-paid backups in the league, and for that reason, the Falcons likely won’t be interested.

Baker Mayfield may have flashed in Los Angeles, but his overall time with the Rams wasn’t all that impressive. I wouldn’t be shocked if he re-signed because Sean McVay prefers him over guys like John Wolford or Bryce Perkins. Even still, Mayfield is not as mobile as Arthur Smith would probably prefer.

Sam Darnold actually performed well during the final stretch of the season. He has plus athleticism, is mobile enough, and has a cannon, but he has always struggled with his accuracy. With the Panthers, he thrived in an RPO, run-heavy offense, so he’s a schematic fit. The training camp battle would be intriguing.

Gardner Minshew is a personal favorite purely based on his vibes. He might not ever be a starter, but he’s an electric personality who can provide a spark if needed. He was amazing against the Cowboys late in the season but regressed to the mean the following week against the Saints. He’s better suited as a backup who can play in a pinch and provide that spark. Minshew is average in most facets of the position — arm strength, accuracy, decision-making, and playmaking. However, he’s not elite in any one area or consistent enough to be a starter for the full season.

Taylor Heinicke would be my prediction out of this group. He’s the most athletic of them and gave the Commanders a real shot to get into the postseason, but Carson Wentz made sure that didn’t come to fruition. With Heinicke, Washington went 5-3-1 while he completed 62% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.

They aren’t exactly inspiring options, but that’s what you expect from backups. The hope should be Desmond Ridder beats out whoever the Falcons bring into camp.

Photographer: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire
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