The Atlanta Falcons are heading into what is probably the most important offseason they’ve had in quite some time.
After two years of clawing their way out of cap hell, general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith can finally start to meaningfully build on the hopeful future they were brought to Atlanta for.
Smith and Fontenot have had two draft classes to start priming for this moment, and there are certainly exciting pieces in place from their legwork there. Now the real fun begins with gobs of cap space and plenty of holes to fill.
Although, the team also has a franchise quarterback just waiting out there for potential trade, and an owner who nearly sold the farm last year for Deshaun Watson.
As much as you want to dream about free agents and draft picks, nothing starts in Atlanta until we know final details about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and his status.
While Falcons owner Arthur Blank has hyped up quarterback Desmond Ridder’s leadership abilities and liked his four-game sample, don’t kid yourself. If Jackson is available for trade, the Falcons will probably move heaven and Earth to make that happen. Blank has been a mostly reliable owner throughout his tenure (the Deshaun Watson saga notwithstanding), but he’s never gotten his team the Lombardi. Sure, they came close, but horseshoes and hand grenades, etc.
The prevailing wisdom around the situation is that the Falcons surely wouldn’t give up a mountain of draft picks and sacrifice the cap for even a player of Jackson’s talent given the recent issues.
But, c’mon, of course they would.
Jackson is quite literally everything a franchise like Atlanta covets: a marquee player at the game’s most important position who will open a Super Bowl window, sell a ridiculous amount of jerseys, fill the empty seats that have plagued Mercedes-Benz Stadium for years and get people actually talking about the Falcons again.
As much as Ridder makes sense from a “let’s be smart, patient and willing to give this promising young player a try” side of your brain, Jackson is the “OMGOSH YES DOOO IT” side that usually grabs the wheel when you decide which way to turn.
Blank being willing to look past Watson’s egregious off-field issues last year said at least one thing to me. The man wants a franchise-altering quarterback. As much as he wants a Super Bowl, he also wants his team (business) to become profitable again. Since the 2018 season, the Falcons have rested in the NFL’s basement.
They’ve been one of the most consistently unimpressive teams for the past five years. Their 28-3 Super Bowl window slammed so hard it took the house down with it. As much as we think about the team, most folks have forgotten about it.
Jackson changes that. While the team could see Ridder take a Jalen Hurts-level step if next fall goes extremely well, are the Falcons really going to risk it if Jackson is indeed up for a trade? A recent report from ESPN suggests it’s more likely than you’d think that Jackson could become available in a couple of weeks.
The Falcons most likely want a superstar. Winning is great, but the Falcons might be veering toward another positive, 8-9 step in the right direction if Ridder is competent. If he struggles, you’re hoping and praying the guy behind him can do the job. However, Ridder’s struggles mean empty seats. It means another year this franchise isn’t selling as many jerseys and car decals. It means another year of Blank’s team not mattering.
The most consistent franchises in the NFL stay the course when things aren’t going well. They play a wise hand and allow the wins to come to them. As badly as I’m sure the Falcons want to be that type of franchise, are they really going to be? If a player as dynamic as Jackson comes available, do we really think they wouldn’t send a billion draft picks, any player of Baltimore’s choice and guarantee his entire salary?
Of course they would. It might not be the smartest decision, but it’s an incredible shot of adrenaline. Blank surely wants a Super Bowl, but he needs his team to draw interest and make the most amount of money possible. He needs a city reinvigorated by a quarterback. He needs a full stadium on Sundays. He needs immediate success, no matter how far that success gets you.
I’ve always wondered if the Super Bowl window is more beneficial to teams than the actual Super Bowl. The promise of “well, maybe next year!” We’ve seen what happens to Super Bowl winners lately not named the Kansas City Chiefs, and it usually doesn’t go well. Is Mike Brown in Cincinnati more eager to have a near-Super Bowl team than Stan Kroenke is to have a fading Super Bowl winner in Los Angeles? Are the Glazers resting on the Tom Brady Lombardi with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers maybe about to collapse into the sea?
The fans want the ring, but the owners want the consistency. They’re fine with the stick as long as they have the carrot. The Falcons have plenty of sticks, but they badly need a carrot. They had one in the heydays of the Mike Smith years and during the 2016-17 seasons. You could argue they had it in 2018, when we all excused an evaporating team’s woes as injury concerns and “solvable” coordinator issues. Even if they don’t get a bite, the promise of carrots keeps people engaged.
The football side of your mind knows what happens if the Falcons make a trade for a player like Jackson. Common sense tells you the Ravens won’t be that stupid to let a player like Jackson go for even a windfall. Better angels say sign good defensive free agents, draft well and give Ridder the keys for a fall to see what he can do. We all know what probably should happen.
But let’s be frank. The Falcons nearly sold heaven and Earth last year for Deshaun Watson. They would probably do even more for Lamar Jackson.