The Falcons have plenty to do this offseason. The team needs a new defensive coordinator with Dean Pees retiring, the roster is primed to undergo a total transformation, given the lack of talent and excess cap space, and the most important position in football will once again be an offseason spotlight. What the Falcons do at quarterback will dominate headlines, and the men in charge are leaving everything on the table.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us before we’re ready to declare anything like that right now,” Arthur Smith said on whether Desmond Ridder has done enough to be named the Falcons quarterback of the future.
The third-round pick had a lot of encouraging moments, but nothing solidified his place as the team’s starter in 2023. There wasn’t much to love in his debut against the Saints as Ridder finished with under 100 yards passing. Against the Ravens the following week, the rookie once again began slowly, missing receivers but finished stronger.
The Falcons had a real chance to beat the Ravens because of some high-level throws from Ridder, but a Drake London fumble and egregious calls from the refs would stave off the rookie’s first career win. In Ridder’s first game at Mercedes Benz Stadium against the Cardinals, he threw for 169 yards on 19-of-26 passing, including a drive that set up a game-winning field goal.
In the season finale against the Buccaneers, he continued his ascension, throwing the first two touchdowns of his career in what was the best performance of his four starts. He improved each outing, which is all you can really ask from a rookie third-round pick. And it seems the team is satisfied with the mini audition.
“When he got here, the way he handled the approach throughout the week, the way he handled himself as a backup and in the games (was impressive). As well as, his poise, confidence and the type of teammate he is,” Terry Fontenot said about Ridder. “From the very beginning, with reading all his reports, the toughness and the mental toughness, (he was great in) all those areas.”
Some things have to be improved, but Ridder did enough to make Marcus Mariota and his $12.5 million 2023 cap hit expendable, even if the staff won’t commit to anything. When asked about Mariota’s status, Arthur Smith said, “there will be conversations” but there is “nothing to update now.”
“Like a lot of our guys that are under contract, decisions have to be made,” Smith said, “but nothing has been made right now.”
In my opinion, the decision has been made. Cutting Mariota saves $12 million against the 2023 salary cap and only comes with a minuscule $2.5 million dead cap figure, and that’s not considering the other baggage. At one point, Mariota was considered a premier backup in this league. He would give a team a reliable floor and a positive veteran presence in the locker room. Those things may no longer be true.
Mariota seemingly stepped away from the Falcons after learning about his demotion. A phantom injury ended his season despite never appearing on any injury report. According to reports, it’s clear Mariota ‘took his ball and went home’ while leaving Ridder without his support as backup. The two sides are headed for an inevitable divorce. It’s almost impossible to see the Falcons keeping him on the roster in 2023, which means they’ll need to add to the position this offseason.
CJ Stroud and Will Levis are intriguing options for the Falcons in the draft, and there are some notable quarterbacks already on the market, with others that could potentially come available. Derek Carr being the most readily available would instantly improve the team’s outlook, but I don’t know if it’s wisest long-term decision. At the very least, the Falcons should bring in somebody like Mitchell Trubisky, Gardner Minshew, etc. to compete with Ridder for the starting job.
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