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Arthur Blank, Rich McKay on the quarterback position in Atlanta: Past, present and future

New Falcons head coach to "pick their own partner" in future quarterback decision.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- From Matt Ryan to Marcus Mariota to Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke, the three years of Arthur Smith's coaching tenure in Atlanta was a revolving door at the quarterback position, especially after the trade that sent Ryan to Indianapolis in March 2022.

In part, inconsistent quarterback play and limited offensive production led owner Arthur Blank and team CEO Rich McKay to part ways with Smith after the Falcons lost their regular season finale in New Orleans on Sunday.

Here's a look at everything Blank and McKay said about the quarterback position in Monday afternoon's press conference.


Blank and McKay went on the record about their exploration process in the pursuit of Deshaun Watson in March 2021. They were also presented questions about why they did not pursue Lamar Jackson in the 2023 offseason.

Starting with the topic of Watson, Blank said the decision to pursue the now Browns quarterback "was a collaborative decision" amongst Blank, McKay, Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot.

"There were a number of people involved in that," Blank said of the Watson exploration. "We pursued it to a point. Then, at some point, it didn't make sense for us, so we became just an observer."

Watson signed a $200 million fully guaranteed contract with the Browns on March 18, 2022. The Falcons traded Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts on March 21, 2022, and agreed to terms on a two-year deal with Mariota on the same day. McKay claimed that despite the timing of these events, the exploration of Watson and the moving on from Ryan were not a cause and effect.

"I'm not trying to tie those two together," McKay said.

Earlier in the press conference, Blank and McKay were asked point-blank if they felt like the decision not to pursue Lamar Jackson in the 2023 offseason was a mistake. At the time, the end of February and beginning of March 2023, the Ravens were weighing the notion of placing a franchise tag on Jackson. In essence, if any team offered Jackson a deal, Baltimore would have a chance to match it. The Ravens ultimately placed the franchise tag on Jackson on March 7, 2023. 

Blank said "you can debate whether or not (Jackson) really would have been available or not," and added that he didn't think not pursuing Jackson was a "mistake." 

"It's easy to say yes given (Jackson's) year," the owner said. "He's obviously an incredible player, but we did not have the cap space. I think the coaching staff felt – coaching, personnel, all of us – felt collectively, but certainly Coach (Smith) and Terry, that we had an answer in (Desmond) Ridder. A younger player without that kind of contract that would have kept us from actually building the team we wanted to build."

McKay followed up saying the Falcons were in "cap rehab." The CEO agreed with Blank's assessment of the situation.

"Anytime you're dealing with a (franchise tagged) player... you have to also decide: Is there a chance this player is going to come or not? Because ultimately you don't get to make that decision. The home team does," McKay said. "So, I would say, in players like the one described, I think the internal answer was no."



The 2023 season was a round-robin at the quarterback position. The Falcons made the decision to ride with Ridder as the starting quarterback in 2023. McKay said that decision was also one reached in collaboration between Smith and Fontenot.

"They had seen (Ridder) and they liked what they saw," McKay said. "They saw the progress through all of the practices through the '22 season. Played four games, and they made the decision that that was the best path to try to win this year."

The Falcons made a quarterback switch towards the end of the season, replacing Ridder for Heinicke not once, but twice.

In the end, Ridder, Heinicke and even Logan Woodside saw playing time in 2023. Collectively, they threw 17 interceptions (tied for fifth-most in the league), and when added to the Falcons' 13 fumbles, pushed Atlanta to committing 30 turnovers through 17 games. They only scored 32 touchdowns total in that same time frame.

"This is not to defend either Taylor (Heinicke) or Des (Ridder), but our quarterback play this year was clearly deficient," Blank said. "Quarterback play includes scheme, play calling, other players, so there's a lot of things that go into whether a quarterback is a success or not, and how you transition a quarterback into the NFL with the level of complexity of plays you put in front of them and whether it matches where they are in their career path. There's a million things that go into it."

Blank said if you were to ask Ridder or Heinicke, the 2023 season was not the year they wanted, not the year Blank or McKay wanted for them, either. But it's where the Falcons are.

"We'll see, but – I know that I did, and I know that Mr. McKay did as well – any option that the coach ever wanted relative to the quarterback or any other position was completely supported by all of us 1,000%," Blank said. "1,000%, without any equivocation."

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and  quarterback Desmond Ridder #9 during OTA practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)


Some would argue that with the talent on the Falcons roster already that the team is a quarterback away from being where they want to be. That's the sentiment Blank and McKay seemed to relay in their press conference. This is backed by Blank's comments about the next head coach coming in. Whoever that person ultimately ends up being, they have a really good opportunity ahead of them, per Blank.

"It's an opportunity to kind of pick their own partner, if you will, or own spouse," Blank said. "(Someone) who they can grow with, who they can select, however we acquire them. Wherever we acquire their rights, (through the) draft, free agency or whatever it may be."

Blank went on to list the foundation he feels the offense already has set, through the "quality of draft picks on the offensive side" and an "offensive line that is extraordinarily well coached and well prepared."

"I think, to the right kind of coach, it's an opportunity (and) this is a big part of what we have to pick going forward," Blank said. "I'd rather pick my own spouse than have someone else pick them for me."

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