PHOENIX – Desmond Ridder will enter 2023 as the Falcons starting quarterback. Head coach Arthur Smith stated that fact and provided insight into the move on Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings.
Later in the afternoon, both owner Arthur Blank and general manager Terry Fontenot discussed the reasons why the Falcons felt comfortable making the move to ride with Ridder.
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The overall conclusion was based on his in-game performance during a four-game stretch as starting quarterback, plus his development and leadership skill since the Falcons drafted him at No. 74 overall last year.
"It's not just the last four games he played," Blank said. "That's a piece of the pie. It's really about what he has shown since the day he showed up on campus as a leader, a player. He has matured a lot from a physical standpoint and in understanding the game. When Marcus [Mariota] was here, he was great working with him and was very supportive.
"...The sense was, in talking to the coaches about it – Coach Smith declared publicly what we already knew internally, that he was going to be our starting quarterback next year. He played 50 games in college and won 44 of them. … He's got a lot of experience winning games and [playing in] big situations. We have a lot of faith and confidence in him."
Blank also said that their faith in Ridder was a factor, among others, in not pursuing star quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is a free agent with a non-exclusive franchise tag applied to him by Baltimore.
Here's what Blank said, in part, about the decision to not go after Jackson.
"I would say, with Lamar, that every club does their own evaluation, and we certainly did a form of evaluation," Blank said. "We had a discussion amongst ourselves. I wasn't involved in those, but Coach [Smith] did and Terry did. Rich [McKay] was involved as well. We just came out of a period of time – last year we set a record for the most dead money in the history of the NFL. We had close to the least amount of cap room we've had before. This year we had a bunch of cap room and just a little amount of dead money, not much. Having compensation, 25 percent or so tied up in one player – we've lived through that. It puts a lot of restraint on your ability to round out a roster and have depth on the roster given 17 games and the nature of this contact sport. … We need to build the team."
Ridder is on the second year of his rookie contract, meaning he doesn't take up much cap space at this time. The Falcons can continue to strengthen the team around Ridder, on both sides of the ball with talent and retain some of their own, as they did during the opening waves of free agency. They'll continue to collect talent on smaller deals and then make eight picks in the NFL Draft, including at No. 8 overall.
They wouldn't go this route, however, without having a great deal of respect for Ridder's physical talent and his leadership skill. He showed both down the stretch – he didn't throw an interception in four games and led a game-winning comeback drive. He has moxie and toughness, with arm strength and mobility inside the pocket and out.
"It starts with the makeup and it starts with who you are," Fontenot said. "We have a lot of confidence and belief in the person, the natural leadership and the competitor he is. He's a true winner. We have a lot of belief in him, and we have a lot of belief in our team, our coaches and how we're going to develop people here and how we're going to play. Teams win games, not individuals. It's about belief in who he is and our team and our plan."
Join us as we take a look at our 2023 free agency additions to the Atlanta Falcons roster.