Arthur Blank is excited about Desmond Ridder. Terry Fontenot is excited about Desmond Ridder. Arthur Smith is excited about Desmond Ridder. That would seem to be a good sign for the second-year signal caller, who turned in mixed results in an extremely brief four game audition for the starting job, given that he steadily improved over the course of that nearly quarter season.
Yet all that excitement has not led the Falcons to anoint Ridder the starting quarterback, and if they do so at all, it will likely be after a summer where he’s competing with a veteran the team will sign sometime in March. The positive talk mixed with the total lack of clarity about Ridder’s chances of seizing the starting job—Blank came closest to saying outright that Ridder was the guy, but he’s not ultimately making that decision—makes March a pivotal month for those wondering about the quarterback position and Ridder himself.
Smith, who had been the least effusive out of the owner, general manager, and head coach trio, continued the tradition of heaping praise and promising nothing on Monday. From Tori McElhaney’s writeup yesterday, which also featured Smith saying he felt that Ridder had a “bright future:”
“We’re not naming any starters right now,” he said. “There are a lot of things that can happen. We’re very excited about Des, no different than we are about Tyler Allgeier and Drake London and the improvements they’ve made and guys who are currently on our roster. As always, all options are on the table. Anything that we can do to improve this team and help us win - and to ultimately win championships - that’s what we’re looking for.”
On Tuesday, Fontenot again had real praise for Ridder, but made it clear that the team will add to the quarterback room in the draft or free agency, as he’s done repeatedly in 2023. Per SI’s Daniel Flick, here’s what Fontenot had to say at the Combine:
“We’ve been really clear with how we feel about Desmond Ridder and what he’s done to this point in his career,” Fontenot said. “His makeup and just the way he’s handled every role that he’s been in and what he did over the last four games in the season, he dealt with adversity, he got off the mat and kept fighting.
“So, he has done some good things, and we know he’s going to continue to improve this offseason.”
This has been the fog of the early offseason, fog that ought to clear up soon. We genuinely have no idea whether the Falcons prize Ridder, want to trade for someone like Lamar Jackson (more from Cory Woodroof on that very topic later today), or even intend to snap up one of the top draft-eligible passers. Their bounty of resources ensures that any road they want to take is open to them, which creates the kind of uncertainty that has ensured pundits and rival executives alike are linking the Falcons to every potentially available quarterback. All the meager clues we have to this point are pointing to Ridder—the continuity on the offensive staff, including Dave Ragone coaching quarterbacks after advising Ridder last year, plus the owner’s seeming confidence in him as QB1—but nothing is known.
The month of March will likely provide clarity at last. With free agency looming, the franchise tag deadline set to wind down shortly, and the draft just around the corner, we’ll be able to parse actions instead of just words. If Lamar Jackson goes on the block and the Falcons are preparing an offer, we’ll hear about it. If the team signs a mid-tier veteran quarterback, we’ll know they intend to have that player duke it out for the starting job in camp with Ridder. If they sign an unexciting veteran, it likely means Ridder is heading for the starting job with little trouble. And if they make no move at all, it likely foretells a draft day move or a trade to come. Any way you slice it, Ridder’s 2023 prospects with the Falcons will be better known in short order.
That will be welcome, whether Ridder is under center or not, because uncertainty at quarterback is not something that sets one’s mind at ease. Next month, we’ll find out if all that excitement the team’s brass is expressing for their second-year pro means last year’s third round pick is the potential future of the Falcons, or whether they have a very different plan for quarterback.