FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons are looking for a long-term solution at the quarterback spot. They had one for so long, with security at that key spot that most teams long for but rarely get.
Matt Ryan was a true face of the franchise, a No. 3 overall draft pick who started most every game over 14 seasons. Replacing Ryan is no easy task, but it became necessity after the respected veteran was traded to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.
The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota in free agency, giving the former No. 2 overall NFL Draft pick first crack at the starting gig in this post-Matt-Ryan era.
Desmond Ridder is next up. The No. 74 overall selection will make his first NFL start on Sunday at New Orleans, head coach Arthur Smith announced in a Monday press conference.
These next four games provide a golden opportunity to inspire confidence among Falcons brass that Ridder can be the guy over the long term.
The Falcons could dip back into the quarterback market through NFL free agency – they'll have plenty of salary-cap space heading into next offseason – a trade or the NFL Draft. They might do so regardless of how Ridder plays, but where it lands on the priority list could be dictated by Ridder's play.
We haven't seen Ridder since the preseason, when he saw extended action with only two quarterbacks on the roster. He performed well in those moments but little is known about how he has worked since then. Ridder has run the scout team and hasn't operated the main offense in portions of practice open to the media during the regular season.
Smith has praised Ridder's grasp of the offense and mental acumen dating back to the offseason program. We know from college tape and his preseason performance that Ridder has a strong arm and is capable of hitting receivers in stride. His track record at Cincinnati suggests he's a winner and clutch performer, considering he compiled a 44-6 record for the Bearcats and never lost a home game.
It's uncertain how Ridder will fare over the course of the next four games, where the Falcons have a chance to push for the NFC South title. They remain just one game behind Tampa Bay, with a Week 18 contest against the Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Some inconsistencies will undoubtedly arise, as they do with all rookie quarterbacks, but there will be insight derived from the details.
Coaches will see how Ridder runs the offense, performs playing situational football and comes through (or not) in the clutch.
Ridder was the second quarterback drafted in 2022, though he came 54 picks after Pittsburgh selected Kenny Pickett. This opportunity will garner national attention, especially with his regular-season NFL debut coming against the rival Saints in New Orleans.
While four games may be too small a sample size to judge Ridder's ability to be a quality NFL starting quarterback, his showings will be something to note as the Falcons continue looking for someone to assume complete command under center in the present and future.
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