The quarterback position is tough. Atlanta head coach Arthur Smith knows that well, as he has dealt with with (or contributed to) a significant amount of quarterback drama since March. A mere nine months ago, the Falcons had worked out a restructure for Matt Ryan to lower his cap hit. Things then went drastically sideways after being publicly left in the lurch by soon-to-be-suspended quarterback Deshaun Watson.
With no quarterbacks in place, Smith signed Marcus Mariota, a quarterback he previously benched when with the Tennessee Titans. He went into the year as the unquestioned starter and made 13 starts, but the arrangement always felt like a short-term one. Smith has of course done it again, benching the struggling Mariota this time for rookie Desmond Ridder. Mariota was later rumored to be facing surgery then landed on injured reserve, wrapping up his 2022 season.
Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports gave us a look inside of the perplexing end of Mariota’s 2022 season and why they mean Mariota won’t return to Atlanta.
The Falcons informed Mariota on Dec. 8 that they would be making the switch to rookie Desmond Ridder. The next day, the team was informed via a text from Mariota’s representation that the quarterback would soon undergo a procedure for a chronic knee injury, even though he never appeared on the injury report this season with a knee injury and didn’t miss a snap due to one.
Jones notes that Mariota has been with his newborn and his family, and that Mariota has been in touch with the team, something players echoed in comments last week.
Perhaps Mariota determined there was no reason to wait on surgery for a team who benched him. After all, if the 4 to 6 week rehab ended up being true, it may set back his conditioning ahead of free agency. Also possible is the knee was injured against the Steelers and wasn’t getting better on his own; however, it does not sound like the team was aware of any problem with his knee.
For the team, there’s definitely a major setback at the quarterback depth chart with no one left behind Ridder. Smith would certainly prefer Mariota to be on the sidelines to help Ridder adjust to starting, and perhaps more importantly, provide a backup quarterback who knows the playbook and could step in on plays as necessary. Logan Woodside, who has only thrown a handful of passes in the NFL, is the team’s current insurance policy.
For Mariota, it sounded personal.
A source says Mariota took the benching very hard, which isn’t uncommon in the sport. He didn’t understand why he was being benched...
This can be understandable as Mariota had his ups and downs, including an NFC Offensive Player of the Week award early on, but in recent months those downs far outweighed the ups. Further, Mariota was in a spot where he needed to be excellent to stay the unquestioned starter. Terry Fontenot needs to kick the tires on Ridder before the offseason to see if the team needs to add another quarterback. The only way around that is Fontenot knows he doesn’t need a quarterback.
Per Jones, it sounds as if the Falcons would have considered keeping Mariota in 2023, just not at his current salary. After the end of this season and the way it went down for the team and Mariota, it sounds like that possibility is entirely off the table.