WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – I headed down to the NFL owners meetings, checked into my hotel and then saw the darndest thing.
Two massive iguanas, maybe two and a half feet in length, meandered by my hotel room window on a stroll to nowhere in particular. Here's the crazy thing. I'm not on the first floor, so I have zero clue how they got there. Can they climb? I know they can run fast. Another colleague saw some others sprint across the street, which is a somewhat common occurrence.
Welcome to South Florida, I guess.
I'm not down here on a wildlife expedition, though. I'm here to catch up with Falcons brass over the next few days in these beautiful, more laid bad surroundings.
It's a good place to both get business done and decompress after a crazy two weeks where Calvin Ridley got suspended, the Falcons discussed a Matt Ryan trade, explored the prospect of acquiring Deshaun Watson and then executed a Ryan deal.
That's a lot in a short span. You all have questions about all that that we'll address in this Monday Bair Mail. Let's get to it in our mailbag.
Will Smith from Summerville, Ga.
Scott, you saw Mariota firsthand in Oakland. In your opinion, can he be an effective NFL starter? His stats so far are only OK but maybe he's matured a little bit? Thanks.
Bair: I actually missed him by a year, Will, as I was on the 49ers and A's in 2020. I know lots of folks in the Raiders organization and got a scouting report here at the owners meetings.
All the athleticism and mobility you saw at Oregon is still there. The guy can move and create and make big plays on the fly. Accuracy is somewhat of a question mark, as it has been during his career. Those I spoke to think him reuniting with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was a smart move on Mariota's part, and that he should operate the head coach's system well.
From listening to player and coach, there’s a level of trust there that will be key to a good partnership. Mariota will still have to earn his status, with others quarterbacks still being added in the future.
Damion McCarthy from Middletown, N.Y.
Who is your favorite prospect in this draft, and who do you think the falcons will take at 8.
Bair: My co-workers give me some grief about my affinity for Kyle Hamilton, saying I'd trade every first-rounder for a decade to get the Notre Dame safety. While that's hyperbole to be sure, I am a fan. He can do so much in the defensive backfield. He's a tone setter and a real talent to build around. I also don't think they'll be there at No. 8, and I do think the team would be better served landing an edge rusher. Kayvon Thibodeaux would be ideal, but Jermaine Johnson or Travon Walker, if he slips, would be good options. Even if I got one of those guys, I'd consider David Ojabo in the second round. He's a real talent who will drop after getting hurt at Michigan’s pro day.
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Jim R from Roanoke, Va.
Not getting in debate on who was right or wrong about Ryan situation. My question is they say they have 40 million in dead cap on him. Does he actually get that money or what?
Bair: Matt will get paid what's promised in his contract, which Indianapolis just updated after acquiring him. That money was still headed his way even if they didn't restructure, but the dead money is a penalty for trading or cutting a player who has amount left on the cap. The Falcons can't use that money to add new talent, so they have less than most teams to work with. That makes it harder to field a competitive squad.
Guy Lenz from Lawrenceville, Ga.
Scott, I've been wondering about Cordarrelle Patterson act 2. Certainly C Pat deserves everything he earned last year, but I'm wondering if part of his success was the QB's, our beloved and now departed Matt Ryan, willingness to get him the ball. You're a football guy and close to the process, is this success story: Coaches designing specific plays that go to C Pat. Cordarrelle just getting open. The QB committing to getting him the ball.
Bair: I don't think Patterson's success came from Matt Ryan under center. I do think it was scheme and proper utilization, believing Patterson could be successful at running back despite relatively unsuccessful attempts in the past. Patterson's a tackle breaker with receiving skill, and was put in position to maximize his strengths.
Smith should be able to do some cool things with Mariota and Patterson together in the backfield. That's something to look forward to as the 2022 season gets under way.
Joshua Palmer from Gastonia, N.C.
Let's say the falcons tank this year to go after a quarterback in next year's draft, what is the likelihood in your opinion of keeping Calvin Ridley to help build since in trade stock won't be high after sitting out this coming season?
Bair: I can 1,000-percent guarantee the Falcons aren't going to tank this season. They're too competitive for that. They're going to push to win as many games as possible despite being disadvantaged by over $60 million in dead money they can’t spend on talent.
Let's not focus on the word "tank" and acknowledge your premise. What if the Falcons struggle mightily and end up with a top NFL Draft pick? Would that impact Ridley coming back, if he's reinstated from at least a yearlong suspension? My gut says that would be tough. I can't see a scenario where they release him outright, but my belief if that they'll trade him when he's reinstated. He only has one more year left on the deal, and trade-deadline rentals don't get much return, either. I think their best move is to take what they can get (maybe a third-round pick? A fourth?) when he's reinstated.
While you can never say never on keeping Ridley, I have a tough time seeing that happen.
We take a look back over Matt Ryan's best snaps with the Falcons—in monochrome.
Jake Stevens from Gainesville, Ga.
What's up man?!! Hope everything is going good with you and everyone in flowery branch. It's about 10 minutes from my house, and I actually coach softball and play at the fields down there a good bit. Anyways, I just wanted to comment on something…. Dude our cornerbacks are STUDS!!! If Oliver can come back and play like he did last year before the injury it will give out lineman a chance to get to the QBs. So my question is this: How is Oliver coming along? And what are your thoughts on this?
Bair: Isaiah Oliver is recovering well from an ACL tear in Week 4 of last season. I'll ask Arthur Smith about that during his coach's breakfast on Tuesday morning, so keep an eye out for news on that. I agree that the cornerbacks are a positional strength of the entire team.
Casey Hayward can flat play, and ranks high among the most underrated players at his positions. Pairing him with A.J. Terrell will be huge for the defense, especially if Oliver rebounds well.
They can't cover forever, however, and the defensive front must help them out. That will require more talent from the draft. Lorenzo Carter and Ade Ogundeji can't do it alone. They need a high draft pick, in my opinion, to step in and make an immediate and profound impact.
You mentioned Arthur Smith was at Sam Howell's Pro Day? How is that possible since his Pro Day is on 28 March and today is 26 March? I am questioning your analysis as a whole if you do not get some basic facts correct.
Bair: It was an honest mistake, Jim. Fueled by this Mack Brown tweet.:
It said practice, not pro day. I screwed that up. I don't make mistakes often, but I own them when I do. This one's on me. Stay a regular, bud. I'll make it worth your while.
Call for questions
We'll have a Wednesday mailbag reviewing everything I saw and heard at the NFL owner's meetings. Submit your questions right here for inclusion in that edition of Bair Mail.