Anyone else tired? I'm tired. It's hard to believe all that has happened since our last Question of the Week segment 15 days ago. These past 15 days have been as tiring as the entirety of last offseason, in my opinion. And I write that having covered a coaching search, a general manager search, the subsequent hiring of both and a Julio Jones trade. And yet, I still wasn't prepared.
The Falcons have traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick, ending a 14-season career with the Falcons organization. Even though this week has felt more like a month, we're still in the early days of the post-Ryan era, and there's still a lot to discuss.
Mainly: Where do the Falcons go from here? Kris Rhim, Scott Bair and I do our best to ponder an answer.
With Matt in Indianapolis, are the Falcons running with an intense sense of urgency to find his long-term successor? Or do you think they have an opportunity to be patient this year to find the right fit in the not-so-distant future?
Tori: I do think there needs to be a sense of urgency to fully create a succession plan but not as much urgency to execute said plan. And here's what I mean: The last thing I want to see is the Falcons go after a quarterback that they are not 100 percent sure about. I don't want them to reach in this year's draft class, because I do believe taking a quarterback at No. 8 is a reach. Perhaps I'll eat those words one day, but it's how I feel looking at it right now. The Falcons will have over $100 million in cap space in 2023. I am going to go out on a limb and say they'll have another top 10 draft pick. Get to that point before doing anything this offseason. Don't jump the gun to find the true long-term successor in 2022.
Kris: The worst possible thing to do for a young quarterback is to put them in a situation where they are almost destined to struggle. See Justin Fields in Chicago, Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville. Both of these teams have holes all over the field, and their first-round quarterbacks struggled mightily because of it and, in Justin Fields' case, caused an injury. Meanwhile, in New England, the Patriots built an offense around Mac Jones that helped him thrive and play like the best rookie quarterback last season.
So yes, the Falcons need to be urgent in searching for a quarterback, but of course not reach on a player they are not in love with. If they do find that quarterback through this year's or next year's draft, that quarterback should sit behind Marcus Mariota as the Falcons build out the offense, so he can be in the best position to succeed.
Scott: The Falcons are (and should be) scouting this year's quarterback prospects. Hard. Just look at their pro-day schedule. Top decision makers are at throwing sessions for most big prospects. That doesn't mean I think they should go QB at No. 8. I'm with Tori in trying to flesh out the roster at other problem spots. Do they need a franchise quarterback? Yeah. Do they need an elite pass rusher or a receiver who can break ankles? Yes and yes. Take the player who can fill one of those voids, or someone like Kyle Hamilton who’s a generational player at his position. You brought Marcus Mariota in. He can start for a year or more. He's an innovator looking to enjoy a career renaissance. Let's see what he can do and worry about a passer next offseason…unless…you fall in love with one now. Then you do whatever it takes to get him.
If there is a sense of urgency within the organization to find Ryan's successor now, which quarterback in this year's rookie class would you take to perhaps one day be that?
Tori: If I am the decision maker (which I feel as though I should reiterate that I am not), I am not taking a quarterback with the No. 8 pick. If a guy like Desmond Ridder or Malik Willis or Matt Corral falls into the second or even third round, sure. I'd be OK with that considering the Falcons now have four picks in those two rounds. However, I think there are so many other needs that have to be prioritized - in my opinion - before a quarterback since you now have Marcus Mariota in to bridge the gap until you do find the quarterback of the future.
Kris: Malik Willis has the highest upside in this draft. If you put him in an NFL game tomorrow, though, most evaluators think he would struggle as he has a ways to go in his decision-making. He threw 12 interceptions over his final eight games, including three three-interception games.
Still, Willis has all of the physical traits that one could ask for in a quarterback. He throws the ball with power and zip like no other quarterback in this draft, can launch the ball 70 yards effortlessly, and creates plays with his legs. I could see the Falcons trading late into the first round if Willis is there and sitting him behind Mariota, similar to how the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson with the 32nd pick and sat him behind Joe Flacco.
I think Mariota would be a great mentor for Willis as they have similar skill sets, and Willis could reach his sky-high potential that evaluators rave about sitting behind Mariota.
Scott: Here's a wacky thought. Maybe they've already pulled that lever by signing Mariota. He's an athletic quarterback with a strong arm. He's only 28 years old, with physical tools worthy of the high NFL draft pick he was back in 2015. The Oregon product is looking to spark a career renaissance, entering this opportunity with scheme familiarity he has rarely been afforded during a career full of coaching and system changes. He knows Arthur Smith. Smith knows him.
It's entirely possible this partnership could make enough magic to repeat what happened to Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee, giving a former first-round pick a second lease on life as a starting quarterback. That's the gamble you take here, loading up talent around him. If it doesn't work, then you've got a high pick in the 2023 draft and you take a quarterback then and there.
If the organization wants to be more patient: What route do you take in - let's say - 2023: Trade for a quarterback? Sign a free agent again? Draft the successor?
Tori: Any of these options, but whatever route they take I want to see them make a decision and go balls to the walls (can I write that on here?) in order to get them. Whatever it is they have to do to get him? Do it.
Is there a veteran quarterback they want to trade for? Give the team an offer they can't refuse. Is there a free agent on the open market they believe in? Go get him with the cap space you now have. Is there a draft pick they're in love with? Get into the position where he can't be taken before you. I really don't care how the Falcons get their next franchise quarterback, just make a decision and get him. It'll cost what it costs.
Kris: It isn't out of the ordinary to think that there will be a young disgruntled superstar quarterback somewhere around the league next season. If the Falcons can trade for a player like Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson, that would be the perfect scenario. I don't think the Falcons should go after a disgruntled veteran and be in a similar situation as they were with Matt Ryan in a few years.
So if a young superstar quarterback isn't available for trade in 2023, I think you do everything you can to try and get CJ Stroud. Heisman winner Bryce Young is also a great talent and would be an excellent get for Atlanta if unable to get Stroud, who will likely go No. 1 overall in next year's draft. Stroud can make every throw on the football field, and he broke Rose Bowl, and Ohio State records with backup receivers in January. I think he'd be the perfect player to lead the Falcons back to prominence.
Scott: There are teams who have done well adding veteran quarterbacks. Take the Colts for example, who have employed Philip Rivers and now Matt Ryan. That has worked well for them. The Rams (Matt Stafford) and Bucs (Tom Brady) have done well adding established veterans. I still think the Falcons are best suited to take a young passer who can grow and learn working with Arthur Smith.
That sentiment is fortified by the passers coming out of next year's class. There are a few – C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young, for example – who seem like the real deal. They'd be better with a draft class full of supporting-cast members, plus a strong free-agent class with all that cap space in 2023, the Falcons could get good in a hurry.
On another note, it's better to roll with a first-round quarterback on a rookie deal. That allows you to spend bigger on other positions and really fortify the team around that hand-picked guy.
We take a look back over Matt Ryan's best snaps with the Falcons—in monochrome.
What are our final thoughts on the Matt Ryan trade?
Tori: I get it. It makes sense. Does that make the trade sting any less? No. I wrote down a lot of my thoughts in my column the day after the trade was announced, so I won't reiterate those sentiments here. I will say, though, that I want to see Ryan succeed at the highest level, because I absolutely believe he deserves it for everything he gave to Atlanta. This wasn't the ending I expected, but I hope it's the one that brings forth a new (and exciting) chapter for both sides.
Kris: I had always been surprised that many believed moving Ryan was "impossible" because of the dead cap number and always considered it beneficial for the Falcons and Ryan to split this offseason. That's likely because I am a Philly native and saw the Eagles take on the biggest cap hit in NFL history by moving Carson Wentz and still make the playoffs.
Ultimately, the split was necessary for Ryan to maximize the end of his career on a contender, and so Fontenot and Smith could begin to write their chapter in Falcons' history with a new signal-caller.
The Falcons likely could have gotten more for Ryan in trade — the Jets got a second and a fourth for Sam Darnold — but they didn't have much leverage, as the Colts were Ryan's Preferred destination.
Scott: Divorce is always hard, especially on the kids (aka, the fans). This one was a little clunky, but aren't they all? Breakin' up, after all, is hard to do. I'm a believer in ripping off the band-aid when you're in a cap crunch, getting the bad part over with as fast as humanly possible. The Falcons did that by extending Jake Matthews and trading Ryan. Let that dead money pile up and then come out in the 2023 wash.
I didn't know Matt well. I've only been here a year, and COVID protocols took interactions outside press conferences off the table. He was as good a dude as you’ll come across in those settings, and a real on-field talent who has plenty left.
The trade was a necessary evil, something the Falcons will suffer from somewhat in the short-term. But, if they draft the right guy, they could be a rare team that goes from one franchise quarterback to another in short shrift. That's what fans must cross their fingers for as the Falcons move through this transition period.