The Falcons are clearly amid the beginning of a new chapter in the franchise’s history. While absorbing record-breaking dead cap hits for all-time players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, the Falcons have turned to Desmond Ridder in a sort of mini audition over the last four games of the regular season following the benching of Marcus Mariota, who has been the center of controversy since the quarterback change.
The veteran seemingly stepped away from the Falcons after learning about his demotion. Suddenly, an injury that requires season-ending surgery pops up, despite Mariota never appearing on any injury report, with no designation of any kind related to his knee since 2015. Moreover, Arthur Smith carefully stated that the decision to turn to Ridder was performance-based.
Adding to the conspiracy, reports stated the Falcons informed Mariota of the change on Thursday morning; by Friday, the team learned the veteran planned to step away. And the Falcons head coach went further to say the injury wasn’t an issue all season but that it was Mariota’s prerogative. It’s very clear the IR designation is nothing more than a surface-level excuse. It does give the Falcons an answer to media questions and Mariota a reason to tell future potential employers that he had surgery and couldn’t play.
Now, it’s abundantly clear that the team will move on from Mariota this offseason. The Falcons will save $12 million by cutting him while absorbing a minimal $2.5 million dead cap figure. However, his prospects of getting another crack at a starting job aren’t great.
Mariota’s biggest draw was his veteran leadership. And typically, I’d give a player with Mariota’s reputation the benefit of the doubt in this situation. Even following the Steelers game, when he was benched, his teammates voiced their support. He’s been heralded for his professionalism in the past, which makes this entire situation much stranger. But Arthur Smith’s statements are pretty revealing and cannot be glossed over.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that Mariota took his ball and went home. According to reports from The Athletic, an NFL agent who has represented high-profile quarterbacks has said Mariota quit on the Falcons. “I thought Mariota quit on the Falcons, and it was unfair to a rookie like Desmond Ridder, who was there for Mariota to that point in the season,” this agent said. “I don’t feel like it is the same with Derek [Carr].”
Carr was benched recently and is seemingly being shopped by the Raiders. The veteran quarterback took time away from the team to not be a distraction, but the two situations differ completely to me. Mariota was always a stopgap option in Atlanta; it was assumed Ridder would eventually take over. That isn’t the case in Las Vegas.
The Falcons have likely already turned the page on Marcus Mariota internally but will wait until the offseason to officially part ways with him. And knowing this regime, they won’t oust Mariota for quitting on the team. We might never get the complete story, but from the public’s perspective, the veteran signal caller is painted in a terrible light.
Photographer: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
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