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Analysis: What the signing of Taylor Heinicke says about Desmond Ridder's future 

Falcons officially sign Heinicke to a two-year deal to play for his hometown team. 

Editor's note: The statements and opinions regarding players and/or potential future players in the article below are those of the editorial staff and are not of the Atlanta Falcons' football personnel unless noted in a direct quote.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Terry Fontenot took to the podium at the 2023 NFL Combine in late February one of the first questions posed to him was about the future of the quarterback position in Atlanta. Mere moment before the general manager emerged to face the media contingency in Indianapolis, the Falcons announced they had released quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Everyone – media and fans included – wanted to know what this meant for Desmond Ridder, the Falcons 2022 rookie quarterback who started the final four games of the season.


Fontenot was clear in his answer, then: The Falcons are not in the business of anointing players to starter status in February at the NFL Combine. What Fontenot did say was that the Falcons were planning to do the work to fill out the quarterback room around Ridder.

"Desmond has done some good things and we know he's going to continue to improve this offseason," Fontenot said, "and yet, we're still going to add to the position, whether it's free agency, the draft or both."

As of Thursday afternoon, the Falcons did just that: Officially signing quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a two-year deal valued at $14 million.

It's a move that tells us a lot about how the Falcons view Ridder, which is a question that has lingered since the moment the 2022 season came to a conclusion (perhaps even before that). Did Ridder do enough during his four-game stint at the end of the season to warrant him QB1 status in 2023? Fontenot may not have been willing to state the answer to that question at the NFL Combine at the end of last month, but with the new league year having just arrived on Wednesday, the move to sign Heinicke gives us clarity.

That clarity comes from Heinicke, himself. It was Heinicke who called himself Ridder's backup. He said the Falcons were upfront with him about the role they expected him to play when coming to Atlanta.

"They drafted (Ridder) high last year for a reason. They believe in him for a reason," Heinicke said. "He showed some good film last year and if something unfortunate happens to him, I'll be ready to go. That's kind of been my life the last three years. So, it's kind of the same territory."

Signing Heinicke – coupled with the reality of the deal the Falcons cut him which allows the quarterback to come play for his hometown team – originally indicated from the outside looking in that the role of starting quarterback for the Falcons in 2023 is one Ridder could earn.

Upon the news breaking of Heinicke agreeing to terms with the Falcons, a few reports surfaced that the Falcons had told Heinicke that he would be Ridder's backup. When Heinicke got to Atlanta, he confirmed those reports without hesitation, saying he would "try to be the best backup candidate to him" he could be.

As Heinicke stated, the role of backup is one he knows well. Throughout the last three seasons with Washington, Heinicke was a backup for Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Wentz. Injuries and poor performances from the starters ahead of him, though, allowed Heinicke to see action in 26 games in three years, making 24 starts. He has the experience and a proven competitive spirit that should be exactly what Ridder needs, because guess what? The Falcons are riding with Ridder in 2023.

Every move the organization has made this offseason has pointed to this conclusion. Let's recap...

It was reported the day the Ravens put the franchise tag on Lamar Jackson that the Falcons would not be in pursuit of acquiring him. Then, when the legal tampering window opened on Monday, they extended Chris Lindstrom with a deal that contains the most total money ever for an offensive guard, according to’s Eric Edholm. Following the move to keep one of their own, the Falcons went shopping, agreeing to terms with the likes of DL David Onyemata, S Jessie Bates and LB Kaden Elliss. All three of these defensive players signed multi-year deals on Thursday that surpassed the $120 million mark in total value when added together.

You may be asking: What does all of this have to do with the quarterback position? Well, this all means the Falcons didn't pump this type of cap resources into the quarterback position. Sure, they signed Heinicke and gave him a nice paycheck when that paycheck comes, but it's a very Falcon friendly deal, one that has a potential out built in after just one season, according to Spotrac. This isn't a deal that's long-term. It's not a deal that indicates longevity.

It is one, however, that allows the Falcons to bring in someone who has the capabilities to push Ridder, but maybe not outshine him. It's one that indicates that the starting quarterback job is Ridder's. Heinicke said so, after all.

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