Salary cap implications of Falcons parting ways with Marcus Mariota this offseason

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Desmond Ridder hasn’t done anything to lock down the starting job in 2023, but he’s done nothing to hurt his chances during this four-week mini-audition either, which will culminate this Sunday against the Buccaneers.

There wasn’t much to love in his debut. Despite finishing the game much better than he began, he recorded just 99 yards passing. Then, against the Ravens in his second career start, it was more of the same. Ridder, seemingly because of jitters, missed targets to begin the game, then settled in around the second quarter.

The rookie made several high-level throws against the Ravens and gave his team a real chance to come out of Baltimore victorious. However, a Drake London fumble, coupled with some terrible mistakes from the refs, ended the Falcons’ chances of a win. More recently, Ridder carried over that momentum into last week’s contest against the Cardinals.

Ridder almost recorded his first career touchdown, but his final stat line was the best of the three starts — 19-of-26 for 169 yards. More impressively, Ridder hasn’t turned the ball over once and drove the field in the final minutes to give his team a chance to win the game. To me, Ridder has shown enough to take the reins in 2023 for a full-season audition, which means Marcus Mariota is expendable.

The veteran quarterback has been the center of controversy since the change some odd weeks ago. 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. By all accounts, Mariota took his ball and went home.

According to reports, 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 and that it was Mariota’s prerogative.

The two sides are headed for an inevitable divorce. In my opinion, the Falcons have internally already turned the page on the Marcus Mariota era but will wait to make any decision publically. The salary cap ramifications of parting ways with Mariota all but guarantee the Falcons will cut him.

The former Oregon star’s biggest draw was his support of a young quarterback and his veteran leadership. Now, he’s practically useless in that capacity after leaving the team and Ridder high and dry.

The Falcons will save a whopping $12 million by releasing him while only incurring a $2.5 million dead cap figure. It’s almost impossible to see the Falcons keeping him on the roster in 2023. And worse news for Mariota: how he’s handled this situation will damage his chances of signing with another team.

The plan was always for Mariota to be a stopgap option in Atlanta with a chance to be a two-year starter if he played well enough, but he didn’t. I don’t know why he was so shocked by the quarterback change; it was always coming.

Perhaps Mariota believed his play didn’t warrant the benching. If that’s the case, he’s not being realistic with himself. By all accounts, he was terrible this season. With a dominant rushing attack, Mariota should’ve been more successful. There’s undoubtedly more to this story, but the public might never get the complete account of what occurred between the team and Marcus Mariota.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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