Well, it happened. The Atlanta Falcons have traded all-time best quarterback in franchise history Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, ending his tenure as Atlanta’s franchise face.
It’s a painful reminder of the business side of the industry, sparked after the team tried to sell its soul and failed spectacularly to make a massive trade for now-Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who, again, has 22 civil suits pending regarding allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Now, the Falcons only have 2021 undrafted free agent quarterback Feleipe Franks under contract, who shouldn’t be counted on as a viable starter for the upcoming season.
The options aren’t overtly promising in free agency, additional trading won’t net you a quarterback necessarily better than Ryan and the team will surely turn to the draft to find the quarterback of the future now unless it doesn’t like any of those players (gulp).
In any case, here are the options at present moment.
The best quarterback available right now as a free agent that feels like a possible Falcons target would be former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Now, Newton struggled in his ballyhooed Carolina return last year, but it was on a putrid offense. One wonders if the team wants to see if Newton can regain some of his early career spark in Arthur Smith’s system, one that would no doubt have Newton use his legs as much as his arms. At this point, you could probably get Newton on a reasonable one-year deal and have him bridge you to the future. It’s not a move you make unless you have to, but, y’know, they have to.
Other options include former Titans and Raiders QB Marcus Mariota (who fell out of favor in Smith’s offense in Tennessee early on in 2019, but is rumored to be in the mix for Atlanta), veteran journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Red Rifle QB himself Andy Dalton, Saints stopgap starting QB Trevor Siemian, Bucs backup QB Blaine Gabbert and, in the most unlikely scenario, former Saints and Bucs QB Jameis Winston who will likely return to New Orleans.
So, y’know, you know what you’re getting into there.
A trade feels like a more unlikely route with the team adding resources with the Ryan deal, but you can’t rule it out. Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield and San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo feel unlikely given the higher price tag and multi-year commitment that would come with both. You don’t trade for those guys as stopgap options.
Eagles backup Gardner Minshew isn’t an elite QB, but he’s got enough promise to make you wonder if a mid-round pick going Philly’s way would help the team stay afloat for a year as they prep a rookie to take over in 2023. Ravens reserve QB Tyler Huntley showed well in limited snaps this season and could be an intriguing option for a stopgap year. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph could want a new start after the team signed Mitchell Trubisky, too.
Again, the options aren’t promising unless the team is willing to make a multi-year commitment to someone like Mayfield or Garoppolo.
The draft options are the most promising, if only because they come with the most upside. Though, they also come with the most risk since you really don’t know what you’re getting. The top options are considered to be Liberty QB Malik Willis (an Atlanta native), Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder (who has gotten comps to Ryan Tannehill, who Smith worked with in Tennessee), Ole Miss QB Matt Corral, North Carolina QB Sam Howell and Nevada QB Carson Strong.
It feels like, if the team wants Willis or Pickett, the pick would come early in the first round, while someone like Ridder, Corral, Howell or Strong could be had with a trade back into the first or with sitting pat with that first second-round pick the team holds.
While Ryan is gone, there are options to replace him at the most important position on the roster. Here’s hoping the team doesn’t wind up as the next franchise in quarterback hell.