For the first time in 14 years, the Falcons will have a new starting quarterback. The Falcons sent Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the team announced on Monday.
"As we've said since we've started, we're always evaluating and looking for opportunities to improve our team for the long term," coach Arthur Smith said in a statement following the trade. "This move is another step in that, and we're looking forward to the future."
"Our goal in every decision is to improve our organization for the long term," general manager Terry Fontenot added. "We believe today's agreement is the best long-term decision, not only for our organization, but also the best for Matt at this point, which is important for us. We wish him and his family the best in their next steps."
Also, on Monday, the Falcons agreed to terms with former Raiders and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota, who played under Smith in Tennessee, brings experience in Smith's scheme and a dual-threat aspect the Falcons didn't have with Ryan. Mariota has served as a backup for Raiders' Dereck Carr for the past two seasons, his last NFL start was in 2019 for Tennessee.
Still, Fontenot and Smith both used the phrase "long-term." And while Mariota is familiar with Smith's offense, with just a two-year deal, he does not seem to be the long-term answer at the quarterback position.
With Mariota likely the Falcons bridge to their next franchise quarterback, here are a few potential routes the Falcons could take to find their next signal-caller.
2022 NFL Draft
Most evaluators don't see any quarterbacks in this draft as immediate franchise-altering talents. Smith and Fontenot have harped on taking the best player available, so drafting a quarterback with the No. 8 pick would seem unlikely with higher rated players filling other pressing needs available at that spot.
The Falcons could look to grab one of the top quarterbacks by moving up late in the first round with their multiple draft picks or choose one in the second round. Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett is considered the most NFL-ready quarterback, while Liberty's Malik Willis, an Atlanta native, is believed to have the highest upside in the class.
Free Agency/Trade market
This offseason has shown just how quickly things can change in the NFL. Davante Adams plays for the Raiders, Russell Wilson quarterbacks the Denver Broncos, former No.1 pick Baker Mayfield is on the outside looking in as Deshaun Watson is now Cleveland's starting quarterback. And those are just a few of the big moves where teams unloaded draft capital for proven NFL talent.
The Falcons passed on a quarterback in the 2020 draft that featured five go in the top 15. They could be the next team to trade for a superstar at the quarterback position. Potential targets heading into the final years of their contracts: Ravens Lamar Jackson, Raiders Derek Carr, and Cardinals Kyler Murray.
Picturing any of those players in Falcons uniforms next season seems ridiculous right now, but crazier things have happened.
2023 NFL Draft
Alabama's Heisman trophy-winning quarterback, Bryce Young, and Ohio State's CJ Stroud headline the talent atop the 2023 class. Stroud and Young will need to stay healthy and continue to show development as passers and decision-makers to remain, but most scouts view these two prospects as better than all of the quarterbacks in the 2022 class.
Missing two potential future first-round receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Stroud put one of the most incredible passing performances in Rose Bowl history. He shredded the Utah defense, throwing for 573 yards and six touchdowns, the most passing yards in a single game in school history, and most touchdown passes in the history of the Rose Bowl.
Young cemented himself as the Heisman Trophy winner when he threw for 421 yards, three touchdowns, and rushed for one against the University of Georgia to win the SEC Championship.
Selecting these players in 2023 isn't a foregone conclusion, though. Many quarterback-needy teams are looking at this draft the same way the Falcons possibly are. Both quarterbacks will likely go with the first two picks, which means the Falcons would need to either be one of the two worst teams in the league or pay a high price to move up in the first round.