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Next week, the Falcons will change the franchise, one way or the other

Can we please just make the pick already?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When thinking about the Atlanta Falcons 2021 first-round draft pick for the umpteenth time, I’m reminded of Indiana Jones at the climax of The Last Crusade, where our titular hero must “choose wisely,” so sayeth the Grail Knight, when trying to find out what shiny cup to drink out of — one cup grants eternal life, the other turns you into a skeleton.

For the first time since 2008, the Falcons have a draft coming down the pike that could change the franchise for a long, long time. Picking a quarterback is a seismic moment for any football team (unless you’re the New York Jets), the kind of irreversible decision that can either set you up for glory or send you to the stocks for tomato tosses and leering jeers.

Not taking a quarterback can do that, too, especially if you pass on a good one. There are still tears baked in in deep dish pizzas all over Chicago at the thought of Patrick Mahomes in a Bears jersey while Mitchell Trubisky heads to Buffalo to play second fiddle to Josh Allen. That random team that thought about drafting Tom Brady in the fifth round in the 2000 draft prefers not to be on camera.

As exciting as it can be at the possibility, this is not fun when you really think about it. The Falcons are going to have to make a gigantic choice next week, not only about a new quarterback, but about the one they already have, a pretty great one at that, in Matt Ryan. The reason so many people kind of shrug with what the Falcons should do is there is no good answer as to what they should do. It’ll never reveal itself; it’s the unmakeable decision.

If you take a quarterback, he struggles and never becomes Ryan’s equal, do you spend the next however long kicking yourself you didn’t give Matty Ice more time in Arthur Smith’s offense? If you pass on a quarterback and Carolina wins its first Super Bowl in 3-4 years with Justin Fields or Trey Lance, do you bemoan taking an elite tight end who only helped win a couple of games?

Next Thursday’s pick is the most exciting thing to happen to Falcons fans since they made the Super Bowl. It’s also, to be quite frank, just as stomach-churning.

Are the Falcons in a good spot? You betcha. Do they have an awfully difficult decision to make? Most assuredly. Does anyone know what they’ll do? Not a soul, I doubt not even the decision-makers in Flowery Branch who will make that fateful call. This is a risk no matter how you slice it; the team’s decision to restructure Ryan’s contract makes it even harder to decipher and find true north.

Do you give Smith his passing version of Derrick Henry in Kyle Pitts? Do you give him the kind of quarterback that could keep him and Terry Fontenot employed for a long, long time? Do you set the course in motion for Ryan’s exit from the franchise? Do you leave all of this talk moot and void by trading down a ways and adding a best-available defender?

This article feels like a gingerly dance around an active volcano because, if you think about it, the pick is going to immediately etch itself in the annals of Falcons history. This team will feel the ramifications of this pick for a long time. There’s almost nothing left to say about it: you know the doors, you know the risks and rewards. You’ve just got to start walking.

In a week, we’ll walk. It might feel like a plank, but it’s just a cave with an old man in armor, presenting a bunch of shiny cups. It’s a beautiful sight; just choose wisely.