Despite a third consecutive disappointing season as head coach, Arthur Smith looks likely to return for his fourth season for the Atlanta Falcons. That’s the word from both Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, two of the NFL’s top reporters, who don’t see Smith fired absent a frustrating collapse to finish off the 2023 season.
The rumor aligns with past public rumors under team owner Arthur Blank. In 2014, it was widely rumored that then-head coach Mike Smith would return in 2015 if he could beat the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South. The team lost and Mike Smith was replaced with Dan Quinn. In 2019, it was widely rumored that then-head coach Dan Quinn would return in 2020 if the Falcons were able to finish out the season strong. The team won 6 of its final 8 games and Quinn returned.
Now 2023, the consistent rumor, guided by Arthur Blank’s public statements a few weeks back, is that Arthur Smith will return as long as the Falcons finish strong. The good news for Smith is that after a season-low loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Falcons bounced back against the Indianapolis Colts. Atlanta should have a manageable way to win out as well, with the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints still on the schedule. That still leaves plenty of opportunity for a Mike Smith-esque end of season collapse.
Rapoport and Pelissero give their understanding of Smith’s future in Atlanta:
If Atlanta finishes with solid performances in its final two games, Smith should be in good standing heading into Year 4. If it’s a freefall, the Falcons’ 81-year-old owner may have a different view.
For Arthur Smith, the news isn’t a a vote of confidence. Blank has made it clear the Falcons haven’t met expectations. Instead, it looks like Smith hasn’t don’t enough to get fired (vs. doing enough to earn the job).
The underlying reasoning from the rumor is that the team had to deal with the cap hell put in place under Thomas Dimitroff, with the knowledge that the first few seasons were to be rebuilding years. This may simply be a way of getting a new narrative out in front of fans, as each offseason the team, from Blank to Smith to Terry Fontenot, give new explanations for the team, where it is, and why certain moves were made or not made. Only a few months ago, Blank said this was third year of a three-year rebuild. Now 2023 is considered the first “real” year of the rebuild. The article further points out that the Falcons “never went all-in on Ridder,” despite Ridder being named the starter before camp while being talked up all offseason.
The shifting narratives make it tough to understand where the Falcons actually are and what expectations are. However, Rapoport and Pelissero make it clear the expectation is the Falcons should address the quarterback problem. It looks like Ridder may get the blame for the 2023 season while Smith gets yet another shot with a fourth quarterback in four years.