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If Atlanta doesn’t address quarterback in the NFL Draft, what are their 2023 options?

Atlanta’s in need of a long-term solve for the position, but what if they don’t get one in 2022?

Tennessee Titans v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In news that may shock you, there’s currently spirited debate about whether the Falcons are going to address quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft. There’s significant skepticism about the idea that they’ll consider quarterback at No. 8, but there’s also an undercurrent of skepticism that they’ll draft one at all.

For my part, I think the Falcons will strongly consider taking one this year, though I do think it will likely be later than No. 8. There are several quarterbacks in this class who appear poised to go outside of the top ten picks and perhaps into the second round, and getting one to sit behind Mariota for a bit until they’re ready and potentially be ready to lead the offense in 2023 feels like a great move so long as there’s a player you really like.

I’ll readily acknowledge that this team’s plans in the draft are pretty opaque to all of us outside Flowery Branch, however, and we should brace for the possibility that it’s Marcus Mariota, Feleipe Franks, and possibly a free agent addition for this team in 2022.

This is obviously looking ahead quite a bit into an uncertain future, but if the Falcons don’t address quarterback this year there will be plenty of discussion about what their plans are, because selling fans on this franchise’s future success still hinges pretty heavily on having a good quarterback under center. Steve Wyche touched on this topic for and wrote some thoughtful things about Mariota, which I suggest you read before you start this piece.

Here are some potential options we can revisit down the line if Atlanta does pass at the end of the month.

Draft a top quarterback in 2023

As the draft spin cycle gets going during the college football season later this year and into the early months of 2023, other top quarterbacks will emerge. The early consensus is that Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young are the two best quarterbacks who will be entering the NFL next season, and both are (again, at the moment) considered to be superior to anyone coming out this year.

The Falcons may love one of them—or may be eyeing someone not even on our radar yet—and would feel better about nabbing that player with their first round pick in 2023 and moving forward from there. The appeal of having a roster that you’re able to finally invest significant cap space into, plus back-to-back nine selection draft classes, for a rookie to step into is understandable. If that player isn’t 100% ready for action, well, you’ve got Mariota as an option on a semi-affordable deal.

If this is the team’s plan, it would be smart for them to flip at least one of their Day 2 selections this year for a 2023 Day 2 pick to bolster their ammo, or to consider moving Grady Jarrett for significant assets. If you’re putting all your eggs in the Stroud or Young baskets, you’d better have a way to ensure you get one of them when the dust settles.

Pick up a free agent

The best quarterbacks who are about to hit free agency simply aren’t going to hit free agency. Tom Brady is either going to retire or engineer some batcrap crazy re-emergence with another Florida team, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray are getting new deals or being traded, and Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield are likely to land with new teams willing to hand over new deals. That leaves an exceptionally thin market, one where the best quarterbacks aren’t likely to be particularly interesting upgrades over Mariota.

If the Falcons don’t like what they get from Mariota this season and find themselves once again shopping for a stopgap starter while waiting until 2024 to figure out the quarterback situation—a scenario that would mean a lot of things have gone wrong, to be clear—Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and Drew Lock would be the most interesting players set to hit the open market. Bridgewater would be a fine one-year option if it came down to it and you can talk yourself into Darnold or Lock blossoming with the right situation, but this is not where Atlanta wants to find itself.

Trade for Kyler Murray/Lamar Jackson/Daniel Jones

There’s a clear divide between Murray and the Cardinals franchise, and this may end with him being shipped out of Arizona. If that’s the case, the Falcons would be remiss not to at least pick up the phone and make a call about it. They could do the same with Lamar Jackson (exciting) and Daniel Jones (less exciting).

Again, if they’re making a move like that after the draft or in the 2023 offseason, it will help to have additional draft ammunition for next year. If Watson commanded that staggering fully guaranteed deal and the trade compensation he did, presumably Murray would at least be in the neighborhood, as would Jackson. Jones might be moved for less, but the Giants haven’t shown any signs of giving up on the inconsistent quarterback just yet.

Obviously the Falcons chased Deshaun Watson for a variety of reasons but Murray is even younger, a damn good quarterback and carries none of the significant off-the-field question marks with Watson. Ditto Jackson, who was a league MVP not all that long ago and remains one of the most electric playmakers in the NFL. If the Falcons were going to give up a huge haul to get a franchise quarterback and ensure it’s a player who’s already established in the NFL, I would think it’d be one of these two players. If they want to pay a bit less for a gamble, it’s Danny Dimes.

Ride with Mariota again

In a best case scenario, Mariota flourishes in his second go-around in an Arthur Smith offense and makes this Falcons team fun to watch in 2022. If that’s the case, there’s always the possibility that the Falcons decide to run it back with Mariota under center for another year.

Mariota is still young enough to have several quality seasons ahead of him if he can tap into the upside that made him a top prospect back in 2015, and Arthur Smith successfully revived Ryan Tannehill’s career in Tennessee, though he obviously supplanted Mariota to do that. If the Falcons surprise a bit this year and they can use their cash next year to significantly bolster the supporting cast, this is not a completely outlandish notion for them.

I would view this as an unlikely scenario, but not as unlikely as the next and final one.

Hand the keys to Feleipe Franks

Embrace chaos.