Roundtable: What to make of the Falcons 53-man roster decisions

Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Arthur Smith (by proxy) discuss

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Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith looks on during AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Tuesday August 31, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta Falcons)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With the Falcons 53-man roster announced, Arthur Smith had a number of questions to answer post-practice about some of the decisions he, Terry Fontenot and the rest of the Falcons staff made official on Tuesday.

There were several things that stuck out to us in what Smith said. He was very open about the way he sees pieces of this roster being almost temporary. The word "fluid" came up a number of times. So, to list his comments along with our questions and contextual analysis, we formatted this story to flow more naturally. Almost like a conversation.

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So, without further ado, here's what Smith had to say about some important roster decisions, as well as what we thought about them. We'll start at the top, with the decision to carry three quarterbacks.

The Falcons' 2021 roster is constantly evolving and we've amassed all the players in one gallery that will be updated throughout the year.

Arthur Smith: "Everything is fluid. Nothing is set in stone. We'll monitor everything all week. Really nothing is finalized until we go into late next week before we get ready for Philly."

Tori McElhaney: Here's the thing: the question that garnered this response was about the decision to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, and how they likely wanted to get a more thorough evaluation of Josh Rosen. Smith's response reads -- at least to me -- that this group will change, and likely change quickly. I wrote earlier, in my initial analysis, that I don't see this group of Matt Ryan, Rosen and Franks being the group that will carry the Falcons through the season. I don't think that for a second. This comment from Smith seems to back that up, and it honestly makes me think they're eyeing a number of backup quarterback candidates that could be out on the open market. What did you think when you heard this comment from Smith?

Scott Bair: That the Falcons are glad they have high priority on the waiver wire. It's based on last year's draft order, so the Falcons are up fourth and should have a crack and most everyone passing through it after this massive round of cuts. That will give the Falcons an opportunity to peruse the quarterbacks about to hit the open market and compare them those they have on the roster. If an outside option's decidedly better – knowledge of Smith's offensive scheme should be worth extra credit – the Falcons can add him to the mix. This three-quarterback grouping seems like a temporary thing, until Smith finds someone trustworthy and up-to-speed on the scheme. We're not there yet with either Rosen or Franks. That said, I don't think Rosen's the odd man out here. He has clear arm talent. We saw that Sunday against Cleveland. That's worth another week's evaluation, at least, maybe far longer than that.

McElhaney: I jokingly asked Smith when he walked up to the podium if he was ready to talk all things "initial" roster decisions, and man, did he start right in on the fluidity of what he sees happening across the league this week with cuts.

Smith: "It's the truth because of the way the schedule is now. You have a whole week with all the different rules. You get the 16-person practice squad. You get the 54th, 55th spot. There's a lot of flexibility and you have the whole week to kind of prepare. So, I think you'll see a lot of roster manipulation the whole week from the league."

McElhaney: What do you make of this? Do you really think because of this built-in week that bridges the gap between the preseason to the regular season that we'll see more movement than in years past? I think it's absolutely possibly, especially with the Falcons as a primary example. I tend to think we can assume Fontenot is planning a bit of roster turnover just by going off his history in New Orleans with Mickey Loomis, too.

Bair: You used "INITIAL," in all caps, when promoting your Falcons 53-man roster analysis. It was an appropriate (and well-timed) use of keyboard screaming. These Falcons will be a talent collection in near-constant flux, especially during the gap between now and a true game week. Teams have extra time to tinker with the back end of the roster, able to take fliers on the flood of talent coming available without impacting game-day depth. I'd expect quite a few roster changes before week's end, maybe more before the Falcons kick off against Philadelphia.

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McElhaney: Speaking of roster movement, you asked a good question about the future of offensive lineman Willie Beavers. I think we both thought he would make the 53-man roster. I know I did. So, his release this morning caught me a little off guard because I really thought there would be value in keeping nine offensive linemen instead of maybe a sixth wide receiver, just as an example. But Smith's answer to your question makes me think that perhaps we haven't seen the last of Beavers.

Smith: "Without obviously giving away our strategy, but you'll see a lot of things happening in a couple days. Different reasons. It's tough on guys like this who were in Willie Beavers spot… A lot of factors go into why we made the decision we did, but things can change in the next couple of days. There's a rhyme or reason for it and it'll all play out."

Bair: Smith's allusion to a grand plan that both meets the NFL roster deadlines and requires subsequent transactions seemed to suggest that, yes, it's possible Beavers or other currently ex-Falcons will return to the fray. The Falcons currently have eight offensive linemen on the roster. That doesn't seem like enough. Beavers wasn't perfect this camp, but showed the coaches enough to be a viable option at swing tackle. He definitely counts as a surprise cut, and may not be gone for long. Key word: May. Cuts across the league may come into play here. Beavers could come back, or the Falcons could find someone else they know or have studied extensively on the waiver wire or open market to add to the crew.

McElhaney: One final note I had from Smith's comments post-practice was when he discussed how he was evaluating this roster throughout training camp.

Smith: "We had a lot of roster movement. There were certain guys we felt good about, that proved it in camp. There were other guys who we really needed to see play."

McElhaney: When Smith said this I immediately - in my head - started listing guys who would fall into these categories of 1. players the coaching staff needed to see and 2. the ones who proved they deserved a roster spot. I think a really good example of someone who made the most of their training camp reps was T.J. Green. I would be lying if I said he was on my radar coming into camp, but he quickly made his way onto it roughly two or three days in. As we've mentioned before, he's cross-trained at both safety and cornerback, having moved to the latter spot when Kendall Sheffield was first injured. To me, that's someone who consistently worked through the second team rotation to eventually earn a spot on the 53-man roster as a much-needed depth piece in the secondary. To wrap up, is there anyone that comes to mind for you that fits this same mold?

Bair: I'm going with Dorian Etheridge, freely admitting he falls a bit into both categories. The only 2021 undrafted free agent on this roster wasn't a featured signing back in May. He plays in the roster's deepest position group, with Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun and Mykal Walker. Nothing was guaranteed or given to the Louisville product. He earned his way onto the roster. We always caution against making too much of a preseason game, but Etheridge was awesome in the exhibition opener versus Tennessee. That may have put him on the map publicly, but he had a solid camp showed he could translate good practice habits to games. It's hard to make it as an undrafted free agent. Etheridge found a way.

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