INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- The Falcons announced Marcus Mariota's release from the team just as general manager Terry Fontenot was making his way to a podium at the 2023 NFL Combine. It was only natural that the first few minutes of his official press conference revolved around the future of the quarterback position in Atlanta.
Fontenot began by stating the Falcons appreciate Mariota and what he did in his one year with the organization in 2022. Ultimately, though, Fontenot said Mariota's release was the move that was best for the team at this time. When considering how much money the Falcons save without Mariota on the roster, there's little argument against the move.
The Falcons save about $12 million in cap space with Mariota off the roster. Atlanta already had the second-largest cap space in the league prior to Mariota's release. WIth it, the Falcons cap space reaches past $65 million, with OverTheCap.com reporting the Falcons have $66.76 million in cap space.
Following his podium appearance, Fontenot met with local media for about 10 minutes. There, he went into more detail regarding Mariota's release, explaining the Falcons structured Mariota's two-year contract in a way that didn't burden them financially in 2023 if they were to release him. If he morphed into a long-term starter, they could have adjusted the contract from there but it didn't link Mariota to the Falcons beyond 2022 if it didn't work out.
Mariota started the 2022 season for the Falcons, going 5-8 as the starter. When the Falcons reached their bye week in Week 14 of the season, though, the coaching staff made the decision to start Desmond Ridder. Ridder started the final four games of the 2022 season. He went 2-2 as the starter.
Meanwhile, the Falcons placed Mariota on injured reserve for the final four weeks of the season as he underwent a knee procedure. However, Arthur Smith said at the time the decision to put Mariota on injured reserve came after the staff's decision to start Ridder. Fontenot confirmed with local media on Tuesday morning that "everything's good" with Mariota's knee, and that he had passed his exit physicals prior to the release.
With Mariota on the open market again, the Falcons are now in the market to fill out the quarterback position in Atlanta.
Starting with the topic of Ridder, Fontenot said the Falcons are pleased with the progress Ridder made in his four games starting for Atlanta in 2022.
"We've been really clear with how we feel about Desmond Ridder and what he's done to this point in his career," Fontenot said. "His makeup, and just the way he's handled every role that he's been in and what he did over the last four games of the season. He dealt with adversity. He got off the mat. He kept fighting. Desmond has done some good things and we know he's going to continue to improve this offseason."
And yet, Fontenot continued, the Falcons are still going to add to the quarterback position. There's no question about that.
According to Fontenot (and Smith this week in his exclusive interview with AtlantaFalcons.com), the Falcons are really excited about Ridder and they really like what they've seen from him. They've also stated that they are going to do their due diligence to bring in competition for Ridder. Both things can be - and are - true.
On Monday, Smith said the Falcons would not be naming a starting quarterback for the 2023 season at this point in the offseason. On Tuesday, Fontenot followed suit saying there would be no anointing to be done at the Combine.
"We're never going to put ourselves in a corner," Fontenot said. "We're always going to leave every door open."
Fontenot continued by saying the Falcons will explore every avenue to bring in quarterback competition this offseason. It could be through the draft, through free agency or a trade, as Smith said on Monday: "All options are on the table."
With the backdrop of the NFL Combine, Fontenot said an option obviously includes drafting a quarterback.
"Whether it's the eighth pick or it's somewhere else in the draft we could definitely bring in a quarterback," the general manager said. "We're not going to box ourselves in and say something that we're not going to do... We want to bring in good players. So, we could bring in a veteran. We could bring in a guy with experience. We could bring in a guy with no experience. But we want to add to the room."
With over $65 million in cap space as well as nine draft picks at the current moment, the Falcons have options. A lot of options. They have decisions to make, but Fontenot and Smith were clear this week that neither is willing to rush an outcome. They're going to take their time when making a decision about the quarterback position and where it goes in 2023.
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.