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COLUMN: What consensus of national media opinions at NFL Combine could hypothesize about Falcons future

The decision the Falcons ultimately make at quarterback will dictate the level of patience extended to them in 2024. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions regarding players and/or potential future players in the article below are those of the editorial staff and are not of the Atlanta Falcons' football personnel unless noted in a direct quote.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The 2024 NFL Scouting Combine officially wrapped Sunday night after seven full days of travel, medical evaluations, formal and information interviews, on-field workouts and St. Elmo's steak. As the days came and went, I couldn't help but fixate on something. And no, it wasn't my filet at the famous steakhouse.

Over the course of the first couple of days at the combine, Terrin Waack and I had the chance to speak to a handful of national media members and key draft analysts. The goal of those conversations was simple: What did these men and women truly think of the Falcons in 2024 and the decisions they have ahead of them?

Conversations ranged from one analyst calling the Falcons the "linchpin" in the entire 2024 NFL Draft, to a couple of very intriguing conversations about what a Zac Robinson offense could look like in Atlanta. You could have guessed, though, that each conversation always went back to the elephant in the room. Yes, the quarterback conversation.

Names were thrown out, of course, but in almost every conversation there was a consensus among the media members we spoke to at the combine. Almost every single one came to a similar conclusion: If you can't move up far enough to get one of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft class (so, think Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or — some said — even Jayden Daniels), then you have to do what you can to get a veteran in house.

As a veteran option, Justin Fields' name came up, but not nearly as much as Kirk Cousins' name. If there were a leader in the proverbial media clubhouse, it would be Cousins to the Falcons if he hits the open market in free agency.

Now, if the Falcons were to get a veteran quarterback, does that mean they pump the breaks on the we're-drafting-a-quarterback talk? Not necessarily. Who's to say they wouldn't double dip in the quarterback market? NFL Network's Charles Davis floated that idea out as a possibility while chatting with us on Radio Row. Take Patrick Mahomes and Jordan Love as recent examples, he said, sitting a year or two behind a veteran wasn't a terrible turn of events for their development. If that's the case, someone like J.J. McCarthy wouldn't be a bad idea.

Regardless of which way the Falcons choose to go when searching for, finding and acquiring QB1, there is one thing that is absolutely certain amongst the uncertainty: The decision the Falcons make this offseason at quarterback alters the level of patience extended to them in 2024.

How do you look at the Falcons in 2024? This was even a question posed to Terrin and me.

Do you view this organization in the fourth year of a Terry Fontenot era? Where winning now is paramount? Or do you view this team in Year 1 of the Raheem Morris era? With new play callers and the chance to start fresh? With time to develop?

Chances are if you see the Falcons' best plan forward as bringing in a seasoned veteran like Cousins, you may find yourself in the former camp. You're in win-now mode. If you're OK with drafting a quarterback, potentially having to bake added time in for development, then perhaps you're in the latter camp.

Truth be told, I cannot say this Year 4 vs. Year 1 analogy is my own. I have to give credit where credit is due and this came straight from Robert Mays of The Athletic Football Show. He popped by our booth on Radio Row to chat with us and dropped this little nugget into the conversation.

It's a talking point I have since fixated on (I do that sometimes). And truth be told, if I go back to the pre-Super Bowl press conference with Falcons owner Arthur Blank when I asked about quarterback timeline transparency, I feel like I was halfway to formulating what Robert would eventually explain on Radio Row a couple weeks later.

However, for argument's sake, one should note this isn't a hard-and-fast rule that you view the Falcons one way or another based on this quarterback decision alone. There are always variables and outliers to an outcome.

When the Colts acquired Matt Ryan from the Falcons two years ago, they thought they were in win-now mode, and they weren't. When the Texans drafted C.J. Stroud with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, not many expected to see a Houston team in the playoffs by the end of the season. Those are two examples on the other side of the coin we're flipping.

Overall, though, the veteran vs. rookie quarterback debate will always hinge upon patience extended, whether that's fair or not.


The reality is that the move the Falcons make at quarterback dictates how patient national media and -- likely -- the fan base will be with the organization in 2024. That's a lot of pressure to put on one decision, yes, but it's the decision the Falcons have been building toward for three years. When Ryan was in Atlanta, the conversation was always about his successor.

"Who's next? What's the succession plan?"

When the Falcons picked up Marcus Mariota in free agency, it was:

"OK, is he a bridge to 'what's next'?"

When the Falcons drafted Desmond Ridder in 2022 and gave him the QB1 title in 2023, it was:

"Is Ridder that 'what's next'?"

Now, the question isn't necessarily, "What's next?"

The question is, "What's happening now?"

The Falcons need stability at the quarterback position. That is certain. And how they acquire that stability will dictate how long those from the outside looking in will give them to become stable.

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