The Atlanta Falcons are entering a critical season in 2023. Back-to-back seven-win seasons under a new regime will place pressure on next year’s Falcons. It’s unclear whether or not the Falcons will stick with quarterback Desmond Ridder as their starter next season, according to multiple reports. The Falcons should look to add a veteran quarterback this offseason.
Ridder made four starts in 2022, the first of which occurred in Week 15. Ridder completed 63.5% of his passing attempts (73-of-115) in Atlanta’s final four contests. Ridder threw for 708 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He arguably played his best football in Atlanta’s regular-season finale victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ridder threw for season-highs in yards (224) while tossing his only two touchdowns of the season.
Ridder struggled with play-action, which is a staple of Smith’s offense. He completed just 26-of-48 (54.2%) play-action dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus. Ridder did show good poise under pressure, hitting 64.3% of his dropbacks when pressured, via PFF.
Ridder’s season was largely a mixed bag, as expected. The minuscule sample size paired with Ridder’s performances was inherently too small to make any rash judgments regarding his future. It means Ridder may be Atlanta’s starting quarterback of the future, but he also may not be.
The Falcons shouldn’t find out without adding legitimate competition to their quarterback room. Marcus Mariota began the season as Atlanta’s starter but was eventually benched in favor of Ridder. Mariota departed the Falcons prematurely upon learning he was being benched. The Falcons can save $12 million against their 2023 cap by releasing Mariota this offseason while carrying a manageable dead cap charge of $2.5 million, per Spotrac. It’s a no-brainer. Mariota won’t be back with the Falcons in 2023.
Mariota’s departure will clear the way for the Falcons to add another quarterback. Money won’t hamstring general manager Terry Fontenot this offseason. The Falcons are currently scheduled to possess $56.4 million in cap space, via Spotrac. Only the Chicago Bears possess more financial freedom.
The potential list of options is endless. The Falcons have already been tied to Lamar Jackson, who is currently scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. It would ultimately be a surprise if the Baltimore Ravens let Jackson hit the open market, however, although stranger things have happened. Jimmy Garoppolo may be a more realistic target that could compete alongside Ridder throughout training camp and the preseason. Smith’s offensive system is a variation of what Kyle Shanahan runs in San Francisco, so there would be some familiarity. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold are free-agent bridge-type starters that could also push Ridder in camp.
Ryan Tannehill could be an intriguing trade candidate if the Tennessee Titans decide to move on. Smith and Tannehill achieved a historic amount of success together in Tennessee. Tannehill hasn’t been the same since Smith’s departure, nor has Smith managed to recreate that success in Atlanta. Tannehill is a perfect fit for Smith’s offense, and if available, could come at a fair price (a second-round selection or two third-round picks should do it). Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr may also be available, but it’s difficult to envision the Falcons entering those sweepstakes.
The Falcons also possess the No. 8 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. That places Atlanta within striking distance to draft one of Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, or Anthony Richardson. Fontenot would have to trade into the top three-to-five range (or even higher) to land his preferred signal-caller. The Falcons also require upgrades all across their defense, and would they draft another young quarterback just one year after drafting Ridder? The veteran route makes more sense, especially for a third-year head coach on the hot seat.
The Falcons have hardly provided coach Smith with inspiring conditions. They’ve botched the quarterback position in back-to-back offseasons. They passed on drafting Justin Fields and later failed to complete a trade for Deshaun Watson while ruining their relationship with Matt Ryan in the process.
None of that will matter if Smith leads the Falcons to another competitive, yet uninspiring seven-or-eight-win campaign. Time is of the essence for Fontenot, Smith, and the Falcons. It’s precisely why the Falcons should add a veteran quarterback this offseason.
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