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Bair Mail: On Todd Monken, Raheem Morris, Ryan Nielsen and Jerry Gray, plus 2024 QB talk

To draft a QB or sign one in free agency? That is the question (among others) in this Wednesday mailbag. 

The Falcons are in a much different space than when we last ran a Bair Mail, and that was just four days ago.

Arthur Smith has been dismissed as Falcons head coach, opening up a search for the next person to run the roster. That storyline will dominate the offseason, from the search to the hiring to the staff that individual assembles and what input he has on how the 2024 roster is constructed.

There's so much up in the air right now, but nothing much gets solved before a head coach is in place. From your submissions it's clear you all want to talk about prospects to take over the HC gig, some members of the old staff and whether the Falcons should draft a quarterback or sign one in free agency. Let's get to all that in this Wednesday mailbag:

Robert Hendricks from Huntsville, Ala.

Sad to see Arthur Smith go. So much promise but not enough return. Say a prayer with me that they interview and HIRE Ravens OC Todd Monken! He won 2 nattys with a walk on QB and has Lamar Jackson playing his best EVER! Great play caller! Keep the current DC and HIRE TODD MONKEN!

Bair: I had to include this question because I've received a ton of Todd Monken questions, and he has been discussed endlessly on talk radio over the last few days. Obviously, because there's massive crossover between fans of Georgia football and the Falcons.

Monken has done an excellent job coordinating Georgia's offense before finding a system to help Lamar Jackson thrive. The Ravens rank fourth in scoring offense and sixth in total yards in Monken's first year as coordinator — proof that he knows how to run creatively scheme up explosive plays and, most importantly, put the ball across the goal line.

My question was this: Does Monken want to be a head coach at 57 years old? I don't know, though he was on the interview request lists for the Chargers and Panthers. I think it's worth an interview or at least a feeler to gauge his interest, but I would want to know who he's got in mind for a defensive coordinator.

As someone who has covered several head coach searches, I offer this word of caution: Be wary of gravitating toward someone you know. When I covered the Raiders, everyone wanted former Raiders alumni or California/Bay Area connections. I've heard local connections here over the last few days.

We also have no idea how Monken is as a game manager, considering his only HC experience was at Southern Mississippi from 2013-2015. There are some unknowns that would have to get figured out in the interview, but his offensive track record doesn't lie. He could help the Falcons in that area.

Barry Wynn from Rex, Ga.

Blank and McKay better get someone who had actually won a Super Bowl. Raheem Morris comes to mind. Don't you think he is a viable candidate ?

Bair: Saying I would have a hard time seeing him return to Atlanta is a massive understatement. He was the interim head coach here for 11 games and the Falcons chose to go another direction. Can't see him or the Falcons bringing Morris right back after the Arthur Smith hiring didn't work out.

That said, I think Morris is an excellent football coach worthy of a head gig. He has worked wonders with that Rams defense and, from everything Tori McElhaney said about him – she covered that 2020 Falcons team for The Athletic before I got here – Morris is a charismatic guy and a good leader. Just don't think this is the spot for him to come back to Atlanta.

And, as I had mentioned in the Monken answer, I advise against looking close to home or only at big names. Gotta survey the whole field.

Joseph Arnold from Smithville, Ga.

Hey Scott, great job covering our Falcons! My question is, could Atlanta possibly consider Ryan Nielsen or Jerry Grey as head coach? Defense was really good much improved. Thanks guys!

Bair: I agree with you, Joseph, that Ryan Nielsen and Jerry Gray did an excellent job in Atlanta during the 2023 season and oversaw vast improvement from a defense that hadn't been that good in a while.

In terms of the head coaching vacancy, it's certainly possible they could get an interview, though it might be considered uncertain and possibly unlikely by most. There were more than a few players, including Grady Jarrett, who said he'd love to see Nielsen retained as defensive coordinator.

Gray has so much valuable experience and is such a positive asset to a staff. Honestly, he probably should've been a head coach by now. I truly believe Nielsen will be a head coach one day. He has so much charisma and passion for the game and is an excellent leader of men.

Here's the issue as it relates to the Falcons: In terms of history within the league, coordinators rarely get retained if a head coach is let go. That doesn't mean it won't happen here, especially after all the good things Nielsen did for the defense, but I wouldn't think it's probable.

Nielsen and Gray deserve praise for the work done here in Atlanta. The Falcons had a major uptick in sacks and quarterback pressures and were generally tough on critical downs while working a scheme that could operate at the highest levels in this league.

Oswaldo Mobrey from Arlington, Texas

I don't think we should draft a quarterback. I think we should use free agency or trade for that.

Bair: Sorry, Oswaldo, for plucking one sentence from a larger question. There were a lot of topics in there. If you want to talk Eric Bieniemy, submit another query and we'll get to it.

The draft vs. free agency question is interesting. I think the strong desire from Arthur Blank and Rich McKay to win right now influences that decision a bit, but I don't think the FA pool is that deep. We have no idea whether Kirk Cousins will be ready for the regular season, and whether he'll be the same player once he gets back. The Ryan Tannehill prospect makes less sense without Arthur Smith here. Outside that, the cupboard is nearly bare.

If you're going to trade for a veteran, expect a hefty price tag. If you're going to trade for Justin Fields, expect to pay him big in 2025. Or you could draft one high, on a rookie deal, even if you have to trade up from No. 8 to go get one. If this team really believes it's a quarterback away from serious contention, do what it takes to acquire one for a reasonable salary, bulk up the team around him and go for it. The Falcons, as constructed, can survive without next year's first-round pick if need be. There's enough here, and Terry Fontenot's track record in free agency is exemplary.

I like Jayden Daniels. Others like Michael Penix. You might have to move up to get either one.

Call for questions

We've got a McElhaney Mail coming up on Friday, for the first time in a long time. Submit your questions for Tori right here for inclusion in her mailbag.

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