So the Falcons have won two in a row. That's a positive step for those repping black and red. Making it three would constitute a major development, one that could well lock the NFC South down.
The Falcons are a game up in the division after beating the New York Jets in Week 13. They've got Tampa Bay up next, at home, with the Carolina Panthers after that.
That makes the next few games pretty darn important. Let's discuss what you want to talk about heading into these important affairs.
So, for once in our lives, let's get right to your questions in this Wednesday edition of Bair Mail:
J.C. Daniel from Savannah, Ga.
Scott, There is no doubt Ebiketie is one heck of an athlete. With 5.5 sacks and 3 TFL's, do you think he is underutilized? What would he have with more time on the field? What is his potential? Is it to early to write him off and draft yet another edge rusher?
Bair: This is such an interesting question, J.C., one that Tori McElhaney debates almost every game day. Arnold Ebiketie is thriving in his role, but should he take a larger one? The Temple/Penn State alum was moved from the defensive line to a strongside linebacker spot, a position used in a 4-3 when not in a sub package. The issue with that is that most teams run three receivers out, meaning a slot cornerback is subbed in for a SAM linebacker.
That means Ebiketie gets even fewer snaps than a standard edge rusher who plays a more traditional defensive end spot. That also means that he has to drop into coverage every now and then, for better or worse. He's still winning 17% of the time and gets home quite often, a solid sum for such a player.
All that equals an adjustment from what he was doing a year ago. Ebiketie has had to learn a bunch this season, while still maintaining his pass-rush prowess. That last part he definitely still has. Ebiketie leads the Falcons with 5.5 sacks and has three additional tackles for a loss and most of them have come in big moments.
Bud Dupree and Calais Campbell are standout run defenders, so it's hard to get him in there at the end. He'll fill in sometimes in obvious passing situations, where he has made some hay. It does make one wonder how he'd do with more snaps, but there is no reason to ruin a good thing right now.
David Hicks from Marshalltown, Iowa
With the end of the season in sight, how do you see Calvin Ridley's production turning into draft capital? He's had a productive year, but will his performance metrics end up in our favor?
Bair: Interesting question, David, one that I was happy to answer considering the implications of Calvin Ridley performing well. The Falcons traded Ridley to the Jacksonville Jaguars with a number of stipulations.
Here was the original deal:
- The Falcons received a conditional 2023 fifth-round pick (active after he was reinstated)
- That pick turns into a fourth-rounder if he makes the 2024 Jaguars squad
- That pick turns into a third-round pick if he reaches a 2024 playing-time milestone
- That pick turns into a second-round pick if the Jaguars sign a long-term deal with Ridley
In sum, the better Ridley fares with the Jaguars – he has 51 catches for 698 yards through 12 games – the more the Falcons get from the elite route runner. What they've received should be considered a win. If he signs a Big Monday contract the Falcons were never going to offer, then it's a major coup.
Timothy Tabor from Beckley, W.V.
Do you think Ridder will make a turnaround this year or will we need to look at QB in the first round of the draft?
Bair: At this point in the year, Timothy, I'm not sure if those questions are mutually exclusive. I think that the Falcons are probably in the quarterback market no matter what happens next. Desmond Ridder has started lots of games to this point and has been prone to excellent throws and turnovers alike. That evidence isn't meant to say whether he's a good quarterback or not. It's just meant to say that the Falcons need competition at the position.
The asset used to add quarterback competition will say more than I ever could about how the Falcons value Ridder. If they pay crazy money for one – Ridder, a third-round pick, will have a $1.24 million cap number in 2024 – that will tell you how they feel about Ridder.
If they use a first-round pick on a quarterback – what if they trade up for one?!? – that will tell you something more.
I do think it's fair to say that Ridder hasn't sold us on him as a franchise QB through almost full season of starts. He would have to do a lot to change minds at this point, without much proof that he's capable of such a transition.
Taylor Heincke, a darn good backup, has just $2.5 million in dead cap next season, meaning the team could move on from his contract. The Falcons could draft a quarterback – paying one lots of money doesn't seem sound – and let him compete with Ridder for the primary gig in 2024. Worst come to worst, Ridder can earn a job somewhere else in 2024.
Call for questions
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